Extra protection for terminally ill employees

RCN reps are supporting a campaign that seeks to ensure staff with a terminal illness aren’t forced out of work

“Very little persuasion was needed,” says RCN steward Michael Hayworth. “It was signed off pretty quickly.”

He’s talking about the TUC’s Dying to Work campaign and the charter that employers are asked to sign pledging extra employment protection for staff who are terminally ill.

Dying to Work calls for terminal conditions to be made a “protected characteristic”, meaning that employees facing the end of life should not be dismissed because of their condition.

If a member of staff wants to work to their final days and is able to, then why not

Campaigners argue that such protection offers terminally ill workers some extra peace of mind. It also allows them the dignity, security and normality that come from being in employment.

As interim chair of staff side at University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust, Michael asked managers to support the charter. They did so without hesitation, he says.

Changes planned as a result include looking to extend sick pay for terminally ill employees and offering additional training for managers so they can give the best support.

Michael first became aware of Dying to Work when a staff side colleague alerted him to its aims. 

“I was immediately grabbed by the idea,” he says. “If a member of staff wants to work to their final days and is able to, then why not? To me, that’s good for the employer and it’s good for the employee.”

He adds: “We’re a big organisation, like a lot of NHS trusts, and we should be able to accommodate these staff. We care for patients who are dying so why can’t we show the same dignity and respect to our own employees?”

Of course, not everyone with a terminal diagnosis will want to keep working. But for those who do, either for financial reasons or as a distraction from their illness, Dying to Work says many find their organisations are either unsympathetic or put up barriers that prevent them continuing in work.

Worrying about money is the last thing someone needs when facing a diagnosis of a terminal condition

RCN National Officer Kim Sunley says: “It’s only right when staff members, including nurses, become patients that the health service and their employer does everything to support their health, including their financial wellbeing.

“Worrying about money is the last thing someone needs when facing a diagnosis of a terminal condition.”

A number of RCN reps have already driven sign-up to the charter in the East Midlands, West Midlands and North West regions. A wide range of public organisations and private companies have signed the charter, giving extra protection to well over 800,000 employees.

Read up about it and talk to union colleagues. You don’t know who’s going to need it – or when

To date, no-one in Michael’s trust has needed the security that the charter offers. Even so, he encourages other activists to find out more about the campaign.

“They need to read up about it,” he says. “They need to talk to their union colleagues and get their organisations to support it as soon as they can.

“You don’t know who’s going to need it – or when.”

More information

There are five simple steps you can take to encourage sign-up by your organisation.

Visit the Dying to Work campaign website to learn more

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