The Dying to Work Campaign, which aims to get additional employment protections for terminally ill employees, was launched by Jacci Woodcock MBE. In 2012, the ex-sales manager's terminal cancer diagnosis acted as an impetus for her to start fighting for a change in the laws around, and employer treatment of, terminally ill employees.
The campaign stemmed from Woodcock's employment experience after diagnosis. Initially, she didn't taken any time off. However, a year after diagnosis she describes being hit with, "a wall of exhaustion." Being signed off sick for a couple of weeks, Woodcock explains that upon her return to work it became apparent, after a meeting with HR, that her employer was making moves to “get rid of her.”
Writing about this experience on the Dying to Work site, she explained: “I began to feel anxious… I was upset but giving up was not an option. I thought this is not right, not fair and incredibly wrong. I feel strong and determined to use the time I have left to do my utmost to get the law changed to protect terminally ill people.”
What protections does the law currently offer terminally ill employees?
Under the Equality Act 2010, terminal illness is treated as a disability. Ergo: as long as employers can prove that they have made adjustments for the worker, they can then be sacked on grounds of diminished capability. TUC, the trade unions conglomerate, a body who support Woodcock's campaign, describe this as a 'loophole' that stops individuals with terminal illnesses from working.
In fact, the TUC believe that many terminally ill people want to continue in employment. A TUC spokesperson told HR Grapevine that continuing to work can help with both the mental and practical side of terminal illness. “A lot of workers with a terminal diagnosis decide that they want to continue working as long as they can, either because they need the financial security or because they find that their work can be a helpful distraction from their illness.
"Whichever choice a person makes, they should be able to expect help and support from their employer. Unfortunately, the experience of many workers is that their employer is either unsympathetic or puts up barriers to them continuing in work.”