Dying to Work: In search of dignity, choice and control

It is an unspeakably terrible experience to go through a terminal illness. But imagine being discriminated against in the workplace because of your illness.

This week, Glenis Willmott MEP, the Leader of the Labour MEPs in Europe, held an event launching a campaign entitled ‘Dying to Work’. Created by the GMB trade union and the Trades Union Congress, this campaign advocates for more employment protections for terminally ill people. Amongst the panellists was the courageous Jacqueline Woodcock, who whilst battling breast cancer, is campaigning on behalf of terminally ill workers.

Did you know that terminally ill workers are not protected from being sacked for being terminally ill?

The 2010 Equalities Act does offer some protection for terminally ill employees. However, the Act still allows employers to dismiss a terminally ill employee if they fail a capability assessment with ‘reasonable adjustments’. Therefore, a terminal ill worker’s job depends wholly on the ‘reasonableness’ of the company they work for to make a moral decision.

So, many people battling terminal illness up and down the country are currently forced to undergo stressful HR assessments to determine if they are still capable of continuing in work. Failing this assessment can result in loss of income, loss of the dignity of dying in work and worryingly the loss of death in service payments, all after diagnosis.

The Dying to Work campaign would like to see terminal illness recognised as a ‘protected characteristic’ so that an employee with a terminal illness would enjoy a ‘protected period’ where they could not be dismissed as a result of their condition. The campaign has three main aims: to get terminally ill workers covered by Protective Rights at Work in line with those covered by Pregnancy/Maternity Rights; to protect death in service benefits; and to allow workers with terminal illness to die in dignity.

Such protection would give every person battling terminal conditions the choice of how to spend their final months and the peace of mind to know their job was protected and the future financial security of their family was guaranteed.

The Dying to Work campaign goes beyond politics. It is not about right or left, it is about right or wrong. The morality of this cause cannot be questioned. Too many people are being put in the appalling situation of fighting for their right to work, whilst at the same time, coming to terms with their terminal illness.

You can be part of this campaign. Start by signing this petition in support of additional employment protection for terminally ill workers and together, we will fight for the rights, dignity and respect that terminally ill workers deserve.