I recently received a letter from an Oncology Engineer who was off as a result of a number of illnesses. My answer to him elaborates on the sort of support you can expect from your employer when suffering from critical illness:
In 2002 I joined the NHS as an Oncology Engineer. I had four bouts of viral illnesses in 2004. My Manager refused to accept that there was anything wrong with me. In April 2008 I was diagnosed with Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Fibromyalgia.
I am currently off work following three more viral illnesses. I tried really hard to keep working, even turning up to work after heavy snowfalls. I have, however, received little in the way of concessions from my employer to assist me to continue working.
Are my employers obliged to help me with this illness? What sort of help or support can I reasonably expect?
Your two medical conditions could be regarded as disabilities under the Disability Discrimination Act, but each case would be looked at individually. To be afforded the protection of the DDA you must be regarded by the Employment Tribunals as someone who has a physical and mental impairment that has a substantial and long term adverse effect on your ability to carry out normal day to day activities. Some people with Fibromyalgia would be regarded as disabled individuals under the Act whilst others would not.
If you are regarded as a disabled individual under the Act your employers would have a duty not to discriminate against you on the grounds of your disability and to consider reasonable adjustments. This could include, for example, allowing you to work from home, work different hours or move you to a location closer to your home. There is no obligation on an employer to make such adjustments – they simply have to consider them.
We recommend that individuals contact the Equality Commission for Human Rights as they are able to offer further assistance. Costs are rarely afforded to the successful party in Employment Tribunal Claims so if you would want to bring such a claim yourself you would either have to fund it or you might be covered by Legal Expenses Insurance, although that is doubtful.
If you have a great deal of sickness absence and it is not reasonable for your employers to be able to cope with that absence, your employers may well be able to go down the capability route with a view to dismissing you.