The trade union UNISON has become the latest employer to sign the TUC’s Dying to Work charter which aims to protect the rights of individuals at work with a terminal illness.

Speaking on behalf of the union’s 1200 employees, UNISON Director of HR and Staff Learning and Development, Alan Farmer, said: “Every person battling terminal conditions deserves the choice of how to spend their final months. When staff are faced with such a tough diagnosis, we are committed to ensuring that they are treated with respect in a supportive work environment”.

UNISON joins Pembrokeshire College, Gloucestershire County Council, Bridgend College, Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and the Welsh Ambulance Service who have all become signatories in recent weeks.

The TUC said: “After the signing, your organisation will have officially joined the growing number of employers from across the public and private sector which have made this important commitment to their employees. Your organisation’s details will be added to our website and the charter will be left with the employer to display.”

The charter is part of the TUC’s wider Dying to Work campaign, which is seeking greater security for terminally-ill workers, where they cannot be dismissed as a result of their condition.

It was taken forward by the TUC after the case of an area sales manager from Derbyshire, Jacci Woodcock, who was forced out of her job after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.

She was awarded the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours 2019 and hopes receiving the honour will help her continuing bid to change the law.

The TUC has highlighted that, while UK Social Security legislation defines a terminal illness as “a progressive disease where death as a consequence of that disease can reasonably be expected within six months”, many patients can have a terminal illness and survive for much longer.

Comment by Peninsula Associate Director of Advisory Kate Palmer

Being diagnosed with a terminal illness will understandably be an incredibly harrowing experience and something that can be made even worse if staff suffer unfavourable treatment at work as a result.

Although employers have a duty to make decisions that keep employees and service users safe from harm, they should not automatically assume that staff with terminal illnesses are incapable of working effectively.

While certain individuals may require an adjustment to work duties, especially if they participate in a particularly physical role, any deductions in workplace responsibilities should not be forced upon them unnecessarily.

Having said this, it worth remembering that these conditions will qualify as a disability, meaning individuals will be entitled to reasonable adjustments where necessary.

Therefore, it can be tricky for employers to balance their commitment to supporting employees, without risking unfavourable treatment by removing any duties unnecessarily.

As such, employers must sit down with staff and have an honest and open conversation about their situation. It is during times like this that good HR personnel should come into their own, managing the situation to find a practical outcome that benefits both the employee and the business.

Last reviewed 4 November 2019