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.

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