I've recently been informed that one my family members is terminally ill, and is only expected to survive 12-36 months depending on treatment.

When should I inform my employer? What are my risks?

  • Where are you located? The answer to "What are my risks?" may depend on your geographical location. Please name your country, and state/province if applicable.
    – user
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 12:50
  • "One of my family members" is quite vague. Is it someone in your household that you would have to care for?
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 8:26

4 Answers 4


If it might affect your work performance, out if you might need to take time off with little advance notice, or if there is any other reason they should know... Why would you not tell your manager?

  • 3
    I agree with this. The only reason I can think of for not telling your manager. Is if your manager is a real pain up the ass and has been actively trying to get you out of the company. Any other situation will have them work with you more appropriately. Chances are that they will give you less important work for a while. But that will be because they are considerate of you. Not because they don't think you can't handle it.
    – Migz
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 5:43
  • 2
    "Why would you not tell your manager?" Because some people prefer to keep their private lives private. I would personally rather not have people asking me probing questions and showing me lots of sympathy/pity. For the most part my coworkers are just colleagues, not friends. Yes, if your work will be affected or you will need to take time off to take care of the person, your manager should be aware, but the OP hasn't given enough detail to know how this will affect their working life.
    – David K
    Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 15:08

When should I inform my employer?

Right now. The sooner they know the better. Even if it doesn't affect your work at the moment give them some head start so they can plan accordingly.

What are my risks?

You might find out that your employer thinks that the work you do for him is more important than family and your wellbeing. In which case you might want to reconsider working for them anyway.

A reasonable employer will be understanding and cut you some slack until things are resolved.

All the best to you and your family!


As soon as you can.

There are no drawbacks, you may need to take leave suddenly with little notice, and the sooner your employer is aware of this the better. Everything else is secondary to that.

There are drawbacks to telling them later, such as leaving them in a bad situation workwise. because they had no idea you had urgent personal business to attend to so they had no time to make a fallback plan.


I'm very sorry for your situation, that is a tough thing to go through. Before your engage your employer, please spend some time thinking through the situation: How it will likely develop and how it will affect you personally and professionally? How will it affect your ability to work (both mentally and physically) and what's the best way to structure your work environment so your needs can be accommodated.

A few examples:

  1. If you expect to be a primary or secondary caregiver, you may want to ask for a family leave of absence (US) or equivalent
  2. If this happens in a different part of the country and you expect frequent travel, you can inquire about extra unpaid vacation
  3. If you have significant time critical responsibilities at work and you don't think you will be able to handle them, ask for a different assignment with some sort of transition plan, or ask for help
  4. Do you want your co-workers at work to know or not? This is really just a personal preference: some people feel better when they can openly talk about it, some other people are more private and are worried about awkwardness.

While this is very painful, it's unfortunately not that unusual. Many employers have experienced this before and will be try to accommodate you within reason. However it's up to you to determine what accommodation you want and need. This is very personal and every person and situation is different. You shouldn't expect your employer to figure this out.

So the recommended action would be: figure out what you want your employer to do and then go and ask for it as soon as you know. As long as you ask respectfully and don't demand, there is no risk at all, unless you have a terrible employer.

One final advice (from personal experiences and both sides): This time frame is long enough that it's important to establish some "Life goes on" attitude. While this may sound unfeeling, it's vital for all people involved. Putting your life (personal, professional, family) on hold and just waiting for the inevitable just drags everyone done, including the person that's dying. It's okay to go on vacations, it's okay to go to parties, it's okay to start planning that wedding, etc. Have a good time, tell your loved one about and he/she will have a little bit of a good time too.

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