Employers who must face the tragedy of an employee with AIDS Dementia Complex can learn from the experience of The Prudential Co., which recently helped a worker with the disorder smoothly transition to disability leave and his co-workers return to normal productivity. The Woodland Hills, California-based company suggests:
- Provide immediate, targeted workplace AIDS education for co-workers. The Prudential's seminar occurred within a week of personnel manager Virginia Fleming's assessment of the situation and focused on the effects of dementia. The employee, Andy, gave permission for his diagnosis to be disclosed so that the seminar would be most effective.
- Bring together, if possible, the affected employee and his or her closest support person outside the company, the employee's supervisor, a few close co-workers and a qualified facilitator to process the emotions built up over the weeks or months of the employee's deterioration.
- Explain the company's benefits to the affected employee and his or her closest support person, then oversee the delivery of those benefits. Andy needed help completing the forms that bridged his working life and his disability. With help from his supervisor and personnel, he was able to take advantage of The Prudential's Living Need provision of their group life-insurance policy. His diagnosis with a terminal illness availed him of 90-95% of the death benefit, a lump sum he has used to buy supplemental home nursing care now that he has lost motor function and is bedridden. Fleming emphasizes: "You're going to pay the life insurance upon death; it costs nothing to pay part of it early."
- Honor the employee's contribution. At the group meeting at which Andy talked about realizing that he was losing the mental ability to perform his job, Fleming and others frequently acknowledged the high quality of his work and the many contributions that Andy had made to the company during his eight years there. They maintained Andy's dignity throughout the process.
- Provide counseling/support for an employee in his or her relative youth who suddenly faces "retirement" due to disability. The loss of a job means the loss of much of some people's identity.
- Treat the employee the way you'd want to be treated. Andy was losing his memory, not his humanity. Because co-workers continue to visit him at home, Andy still feels connected to the workplace that was a major part of his life.
- Structure your benefits package so that a terminally ill employee can move through the transition to disability leave relatively easily and with dignity. It costs nothing to allow early benefits from a life insurance policy to a terminally ill employee.
Personnel Journal, June 1995, Vol. 74, No. 6, p. 131.