10 Nov Cancer & Employment: International Series – China
Navigating employment after a cancer diagnosis is a challenges issue for many employees because 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.