Cancer & Employment: International Series – Canada

After years of advocating for a national disabilities act in Canada, the calls from triage-cancer-blog-canada-employmentdisability-rights activists and persons with disabilities have been answered.

Carla Qualtrough, minister of sport and persons with disabilities, initiated a pending national act for people with disabilities that will be enacted sometime within a year and a half. The law will establish a standard for federally regulated employers and service providers, such as banks, telecommunications, trains, and airlines, in order to ensure accessibility and fairness in the workplace for Canadians with a disability.

According to an interview with the Free Press, Qualtrough has placed this law as her “No. 1 deliverable to the prime minister.” This push for the national law was deeply rooted in the displeased voices of people with disabilities, for half of all the complaints received by the Canadian Human Rights Association were filed by people with disabilities.

Although Canada has the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a principle that provides some protection for people with disabilities, one has to challenge a violation (if one arises) with the Canadian Human Rights Association. This creates an additional barrier that can discourage a person with disability from challenging a potentially harmful situation. “A national disabilities act could make the process more proactive,” Qualtrough said.

Additionally, some provinces in Canada provide some protections, but this national act would extend protections to all Canadians.

The new legislation will is expected to be introduced in the fall of 2017 or spring 2018. In the meantime, the more than 4 million Canadians with disabilities can look forward to a more equitable society.

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Cancer & Employment: International Series – China

Navigating employment after a cancer diagnosis is a challenges issue for many employees triage-cancer-blog-chinabecause of the balance between money, time, and abilities.  In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides legal protection against employment discrimination and access to reasonable accommodations.

While the ADA is more than 16 years old, many employers in the US do not comply with the law.  A similar situation exists in China, as exemplified by the recent death of a Chinese teacher battling cancer.

After teaching at the Lanzhou Jiaotong University’s Bowen College for two years, 32-year-old English teacher Liu Lingli was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Instead of receiving medical accommodations from the university, however, Ms. Liu was fired for absenteeism.

Chinese law prohibits employers from firing employees while on medical leave. But according to legal experts, many firms don’t abide by this rule, ultimately leaving numerous individuals sick and unemployed. And this unfortunate event is exactly what happened with Ms. Liu, for her firing was indicative of the disability stigma looming within modern Chinese society.

Aware that this was a clear violation of the labor law, Ms. Liu filed a lawsuit against the university shortly after her dismissal. She eventually won the lawsuit, consequently ordering Lanzhou University to restore her employment. The school, however, did not comply and appealed the decision. The school later lost the appeal.

Despite the court’s siding with Ms. Liu, she was drowning in medical debt. The chemotherapy and other treatments totaled more than $60,000, an amount far above what her father, who also has cancer, and mother could afford.

As a result, she began to sell clothes on the streets to make ends meet. Nie Ting, a tour agency employee who befriended Ms. Liu outside a shopping mall, expressed her admiration for her friend’s willpower to sell clothes even after she began using a wheelchair. “She was a strong woman,” said Ms. Ting.

Ms. Liu kept her dismissal private because, according to her friends, she felt humiliated. The reason the case went public was because the university later extended their deepest apologies and agreed to pay the wages they had previously denied her after her death. The Chinese news site The Paper reported that Lanzhou University would pay Ms. Liu’s family nearly $11,000, $2,200 of the payment to cover the cost of her funeral, and that it had suspended the human resources director where Ms. Liu was working.

Hopefully, Ms. Liu’s story has, and will continue to, positively impact the responses of Chinese employers to their employees with serious medical conditions.

Cancer & Employment: International Series – Japan

Triage Cancer Blog - Employment JapanThere are endless questions to think about when it comes to employment after a cancer diagnosis. But perhaps the most important question is one that is out of one’s control: will my country protect and support me in the workplace? In the US, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that not only provides protection against employment discrimination, but also gives access to reasonable accommodations, such as part-time positions and health and disability insurance. Unfortunately, not all countries provide that same security.

In Japan, cancer survivors are heavily victimized in the workplace. Some Japanese firms will explicitly reject cancer survivors solely based on their medical history while many will immediately dismiss the survivors after they are diagnosed. 30 percent of cancer patients said their salary was cut by 70 percent, ultimately forcing them to either reduce treatment or end treatment altogether. The reasons for these injustices are because 1) there is no disability discrimination law in Japan and 2) many believe cancer to be a death sentence, both in terms of health and in terms of maintaining dignity and contributing to society.  The unfortunate truth about cancer in Japan is that the illness carries a severe social stigma that cancer patients have to face both in the workplace and out in society.

All Japanese do not believe this stigma, though. Naomi Sakurai, a cancer survivor, former victim of employment discrimination, and now the head of a job consulting firm, stated that “We, the cancer patients and our families, are a part of society.” Her advocacy for equal rights initiated a revisal of the Cancer Control Law. The revised law requires that employers continue hiring cancer patients, demands that the government promote general education about cancer, and calls for a society that will better provide for and accept cancer patients.

There’s no doubt that the improved law has already taken effect, as Chugai Pharmaceutical Co. recently received the “Excellence Award 2015” from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Cancer Project as an acknowledgement for their support for employees with cancer. This award is given to promote the importance of “keeping a good balance between treatment and work.” With an award like this, Japan is effectively developing into a society in which everyone, disabled or not, is treated fairly.

Sakurai and the government’s actions are leading a movement toward a social environment that includes and accommodates for cancer patients. According to the National Cancer Center’s data, half of Japan’s population can expect to contract cancer in their lifetime. However, 60 percent of sufferers now have at least a five-year survival rate. With serious statistics like these, there’s no doubt that cancer patients will need a place in society, for it will become “an increasingly big issue for companies to secure manpower” without them, says senior researcher Doteuchi.

From having no established disability discrimination law to revising legislation to then nationally awarding a firm for their support for employees with cancer, Japan is slowly but surely transforming into a country where the needs of cancer patients are valid, understood, and heard. And that’s exactly the direction Japan should be heading toward. Soon, Japan will have a culture where cancer doesn’t carry a stigma, a work environment where all employees are treated fairly, and a society in which cancer patients will have complete control over their employment.