Terminally ill employees
Many workers get a serious illness at some time in their working lives. They may require time off, often many months, to get treatment or recover. There is good guidance that has been produced by the TUC and others to deal with cases of long-term illness, or return to work for those who are disabled as a result of an illness or injury.
However, sometimes there is no effective treatment. In these cases the worker may face a time of huge emotional stress, fear and uncertainty. Trade unions can try to ensure that when that happens, they try to remove any additional stress and worry.
A terminal illness is a disease that cannot be cured or adequately treated and there is a reasonable expectation that the patient will die within a relatively short period of time. Usually, but not always, they are progressive diseases such as cancer or advanced heart disease.
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 6 months”, however many patients can have a terminal illness and survive much longer than 6 months.
Implications of a terminal diagnosis
Being told that you are to die as a result of a disease for which there is no cure or effective treatment and that you only have months, or at best a year or so to live is a traumatic event and everyone will react differently.
Sometimes the nature of the illness is such that the person is unlikely to be able to work again. In other cases, a person may decide that they do not want to work anymore and would rather spend their remaining time with their family and friends, getting their affairs in order, or simply doing what they want. However, 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.
If a worker with a terminal illness loses their job they lose their income. They can also lose any death in service payments they have earned through a life-time of work but are only payable to those that die while still in employment.