The ‘Dying to Work Charter’ (Charter) is a voluntary charter which lays down guidance for employers in how to support workers with a terminal illness at work.
The TUC wants terminal illness to be recognised as a ‘protected characteristic’. Their idea is for terminally ill workers to enjoy a ‘protected period’ where they cannot be dismissed as a result of their condition. Royal Mail is the most recent employer to sign up to the Charter, meaning that now over 500,000 workers are now covered by this Charter.
Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, said:
“Your job should be the least of your worries when you get a terminal diagnosis. Royal Mail has shown real leadership in this area, working with unions like the CWU to guarantee fair treatment for terminally-ill workers. Over half a million workers are now covered the Dying to Work charter, and we expect more employers to commit in the coming months.”
Dr Shaun Davis, Royal Mail Group Global Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing & Sustainability, said:
“Everyone experiences terminal illness in a unique way, and at Royal Mail we want to ensure that any of our people diagnosed with such an illness is supported at work through a tailored and flexible approach. Signing up to the Dying to Work Charter builds on the policies and guides we already have in place to help employees, and their direct families, if they receive such a diagnosis.”
The current legal position for terminally ill workers is that some employers will expect them to continue working after a diagnosis. Some will dismiss after what they consider to be a reasonable period of absence; others will offer early ill-health retirement. We are aware of a case where Sainsbury’s gave £8,000 to an employee with a diagnosis of bone cancer and a 2 year prognosis, although it had no legal entitlement to do so This helped her to take time to deal with the diagnosis and put her affairs in order.
The TUC have not added any detail as to how long the protected period would be. Determining how long a terminally ill worker would be protected before an employer can dismiss may be seen as more of a moral question. This would require balancing the worker’s interest of support and protection with the employer’s interest in recruiting a suitable replacement so to maintain the smooth running of their business.
Additionally, if terminal illness was to be a protected characteristic it is likely that many workers bringing a claim will die whilst doing so. In that case, the law would provide that the family of the employee bringing a ‘terminal illness at work claim can collect any settlement or compensation.
The TUC’s idea would not be good for employers because introducing another protected characteristic would increase the number of claims. This, coupled with the recent scrapping of employment tribunal fees could result in employers dealing with many more tribunal claims from their workforce.
It will be fascinating to see whether more employers join the Charter, because if they do then this will only increase the chances of the TUC’s idea coming to fruition.
By Zahid Reza, Employment Paralegal
Image used under CC courtesy of Howard Lake