SMEs and cancer: how employee benefits packages can help

An employee’s cancer diagnosis is tragic news. But what about when the employer is a small or medium-sized business? Steve Browning, Group Protection Proposition Manager at Aviva, looks at some potential solutions.

Why cancer can hit SMEs harder

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the economy, creating jobs that make a massive contribution to the UK private sector. The bad news for smaller businesses has always been the numbers: a key employee with a cancer diagnosis in a small enterprise can mean panic stations, whereas a similar situation in a large corporation often means business as usual. 1.4 million SME businesses 1 employ people who could potentially benefit from some form of protection cover against long-term sickness absence, including cancer.

Let’s put the cancer statistics in perspective. It is estimated that there are around 890,000 working age people living with cancer 2. Cancer survival rates are higher in younger age groups, so the positive news is that the working age population is at a statistical advantage when it comes to successful rehabilitation.

What modern insurers offer SMEs

Our industry offers SME employers several options to help combat the financial impact of cancer in the workplace. For example, group income protection and group critical illness policies backed with support services provided through EAPs (Employee Assistance Programmes) which are often provided at no extra cost. These policies offer different levels of cover to suit an employer’s business needs and budget. Certain insurers provide bespoke rehabilitation services to support an employee when they are ready to return to work following treatment and recovery.

How group policies and EAP support services deliver SME cancer protection

Group income protection policies provide financial assistance for employees who are unable to work due to illness, so it can be a first line of defence against lost income when an employee’s medical interventions for cancer begin. Employees will certainly need time off and a plan to return to work following successful treatment, so income protection can be a lifeline while this happens.

Group critical illness can offer a more direct financial intervention in the form of a tax-free cash sum for the employee following the cancer diagnosis. Although the financial side is key, a wide range of EAP support services can also do a great deal of heavy lifting for the SME. These can vary from provider to provider, but can include a special cancer drugs fund, access to a second medical opinion and phone-based helplines. Some providers can even offer cancer-related work support services, which can help employees come to terms with their illness, help them to self-manage their symptoms and where possible, return to work. It’s worth remembering that 85% of people with cancer who were employed when diagnosed say it was important for them to continue working  3.

Offering group protection as part of an employee benefits package can also help SMEs demonstrate commitment to their workforces and help with recruitment and retention. Of course, none of this can overturn the tragic onset of cancer, but these services can provide extensive support for employees when it is needed most.

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