Monday, 14 December 2009

Q & A: Paid leave for live donors

Q: Dear Dr O’Donoghue, I have a kidney policy type question/thought that might help a little with the situation with Donors.

As some background, my sister has PKD and I am prospective donor for her. We are now at the stage where we are waiting for her to be sick enough for the transplant to take place and I am cleared for surgery. Unfortunately my questions\thoughts are not with the medical side, which by standards is mostly logic.

I work for a large multinational company and approached the HR team to explain that I was donating my kidney and asking for clarification of cover for a) testing days as normal treatment type leave and b) post operation as normal sick leave. Their response was “no” until after further discussion (where I pointed out cover is allowed for blood donors, normal accidents, pregnancies etc) HR finally agreed that absences related to the kidney donation would be covered as normal sick leave.

What would help donors is if it was made law for firms to effectively treat the above as a normal condition - much as normal sick leave (under reasonable circumstances). As Renal Tsar, would you be in a position to carry this thought forward at a national level?
My sister and I are currently chasing around our various health insurers to see how we are covered. I suspect that the answer initially will be no – since I am not technically sick (in fact the opposite) but hope to point out the error of their policies and get it changed, otherwise she could be in one hospital, whilst I am operated on in another and the kidney transported between them.
Any thoughts on the above would be great, Thanks in advance

A: Thank you for your email about your discussions with your company to support your living donation of a kidney to your sister. I am delighted that they have agreed to continue to pay your salary.

From the description in your letter, it appears that you are employed by a large company that no doubt runs a "contractual" sick leave scheme (ie that you receive so many days, weeks or months at full pay, half pay etc as long as medical certificates are provided).

I understand that under employment law, there is no obligation for firms to pay contractual sick pay (probably many very small firms cannot afford to do so). However, employers do have a duty to pay statutory sick pay (SSP) for the first 28 weeks if an employee is absent due to sickness in any period of 3 years.

Therefore, I suspect that it would be difficult to make legislation forcing employers to pay employees for the period of absence due to live organ donation as they are not obliged to pay anything other than SSP for any type of sickness absence. One avenue to explore might be with Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) on the criteria for SSP, to clarify that someone in your circumstances (who would presumably get medical certificates) would qualify for SSP and to ensure that this is communicated to employers. A change in legislation might not therefore be necessary.

We are also working with Trade Unions to discuss generally how they could work with us to raise the profile of organ donation with their members. This seems an issue that they could raise to encourage organisations to agree to meet salary costs when absent from work as a live donor.

My best wishes to you and your sister for a successful transplant