Back to work: employment protections for patients and their families

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Published: 19 Jun 2017
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Silvia Fernández Martínez - Università di Bergamo, Bergamo, Italy

Silvia Fernández Martínez talks to ecancer at IFCPE 2017 about the issues faced by patients when attempting to returning to work.

She discusses attempting to alter the interpretation of dismissal regulations and legislation in certain countries to safeguard patients from being dismissed from work due to reduced capacity or absence from work.

The rights of cancer patients in work and returning to their jobs was also discussed by Prof Diana Kloss, here.

Back to work is a delicate issue to allow people to come back to their normality when they have a chronic disease as cancer. But the problem is that at this moment when a person with a chronic disease wants to come back to work, sometimes, or usually, they are dismissed, because they have a reduced capacity or poor performance, a loss of productivity, and so the employer dismisses them.

Are you looking at ways to overcome this problem?

The problem is that in the vast majority of countries these dismissals are possible, because dismissal for reduced capacity or for absence from work is permitted. I tried to study how we can change the dismissal regulations to prevent the dismissal of people with chronic disease by changing the interpretation of the causes of the dismissal. I have seen that anti-discrimination legislation is key to protecting people with chronic disease from dismissal.

What are the ways we can change?

One possible solution could be considering chronic diseases as cancer as disability, this is what the Court of Justice of the European Union has done in the last years. But in my opinion this is not the best solution because, as we know, the number of people with chronic disease will increase in the next years and in my opinion we cannot consider all these people as disabled people. We have also seen that the level of occupation of people with disability is not very high so if we consider people with chronic disease as disabled maybe they won’t find a job.
I propose to consider chronic disease as a specific case of discrimination so people can access reasonable adjustments and protection against dismissal but without being considered disabled. I propose to introduce a new category in the legislation about chronic disease and to introduce a new definition.

When will these changes start taking place?

We need to change the directive on equal treatment and employment opportunities. It’s quite difficult because it’s important in reforming the European law and also national legislation of the states.