Give employees with cancer hope by not firing them

Posted at 03/26/2013 12:58 AM | Updated as of 03/26/2013 10:36 AM

Cancer survivor wins legal battle vs Japan’s biggest broadcaster

WHO employees with cancer given easier schedules

Journalist Arlene Samson-Espiritu was forced to resign by Fuji TV because she had cancer

MANILA, Philippines - One of the biggest television networks in Japan recently lost a labor case for illegally firing its Manila bureau news producer after learning she had cancer.

The Philippine Court of Appeals’ 8th Division ruled that Tokyo-based Fuji Television Network Inc. reinstate veteran journalist Arlene Samson-Espiritu and pay her the amount of P6.5 million in backwages, moral and exemplary damages, after a three-year legal battle waged by the petitioner in search for justice.

For Samson-Espiritu, now a freelance television producer, it was an answered prayer.

“God is so good, this is a victory for all cancer patients,” she said. “Hindi madali yun para sa akin at pamilya ko. Tuwing naaalala ko yung pang-aapi nila sa akin, naiiyak pa rin ako. Tinanggalan nila ako ng pag-asa at kabuhayan sa panahong mas kailangan ko.”

Samson- Espiritu said she continues to cope with the emotional and psychological effect of what Fuji TV had done to her. Her boss then, Yoshiko Aoiki, asked her to sign a resignation letter, prepared by her employer’s lawyers, after she informed her office of her medical conditions. She refused, but was eventually forced to sign when Aoki threatened to withhold her salary.

After Aoki was recalled back to Tokyo, Fuji TV sent Shuji Yano to settle the labor case filed by Samson-Espiritu. But, Yano, who was responsible for hiring Samson-Espiritu, decided to contest the case and told her that they will let the court decide on her case.

"Now, I am very happy that the court made a decision," Samson-Espiritu said.

Cancer patients' rights

The court also found Fuji TV guilty of violating a local law on equal opportunity for disabled persons.

After six rounds of chemotherapy and a lobectomy, Arlene Samson-Espiritu has regained her strength and is now cancer-free

“Cancer patients are considered disabled persons who have the right to equal opportunity for employment and their dismissal or termination from work due to their illness alone is discrimination of employment,” Associate Justice Edwin Sorongon said in his decision.

Samson-Espiritu fought furiously against the disease and, at the same time, for all cancer patients seeking justice for unfair treatment from their employers. And she won in both fronts.

For Espiritu, her work at Fuji was the last straw of normalcy in her life turned-upside-down by cancer, which afflicts nearly 200 in every 100,000 Filipinos and kills four every hour, making it the third leading cause of death in the Philippines.

“What was important was hope and knowing that I still mattered, that I can still do things,” she said. “I was expecting Fuji to be my hope. But Fuji did not give me that hope.”

50% of cancer deaths are young people

According to the World Health Organization, cancer is one of the non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that have become the leading cause of deaths in the Asia-Pacific region.

“What is more alarming is that 50 per cent of those deaths are of people who are still young and productive,” noted Dr. Susan Mercado, director for building health communities and populations at the WHO’s Western Pacific Regional Office in Manila.

“NCDs are the leading cause of premature mortality and that has a tremendous impact not just on social life and family life, but also on the economic development of countries in the region,” she added.

But Mercado stressed that people diagnosed with cancer could have good prognosis with early detection, proper treatment, and a shift to a healthy lifestyle.

“Cancer is not a death sentence,” she said. “There are lots of people who live for many years, as long as diagnosis is early and they have access to treatment and care.”

'Give afflicted employees a chance'

Dr. Henk Bekedam, WHO director for health sector development, added that cancer patients can still become productive members of society when they are able to get treatment.

But he noted that he was aware that some employment conditions make it “very tough for employees” to remain in their work while undergoing cancer treatment.

“Cancer treatments are not done overnight, it takes months especially when you have a combination of operation and then chemotherapy,” he said. “I’ve seen people left out of the running for three to four months, and then have a slow re-start.”

“We hope that there would always be arrangements that employers can give employees a chance to come back after such a period,” he added.

Keeping their work is “extremely important” for people diagnosed with cancer or other non-communicable diseases, Bekedam said.

“Anybody diagnosed with a disease is in first instance shocked,” he said. “Everybody thinks it will not happen to them, and unfortunately everyone will have one disease one day. So it would be encouraging if they keep their jobs, and that’s something we need to strive for.”

At WHO, employees diagnosed with cancer are given employment schedules that allow them to continue working, according to Marilu Lingad, information officer at the international agency’s Western Pacific Regional Office.

Bekedam said the policy stresses that it’s still possible to be productive despite being inflicted with such diseases.

“People should never lose hope,” he said.

Back to work

After six rounds of chemotherapy and a lobectomy that entailed cutting off one-fourth of her lung, Espiritu has regained her strength and gone back to doing what she does best.

As a freelance reporter and producer, she has done work with such international news organizations as CNN, Al Jazeera English, Asahi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun. She also does media and public relations consultancies.

Learning from her struggle with cancer, Espiritu has started a business to provide in-house healthy lifestyle services such as massages and aromatherapy for employees of private companies.

While the Court of Appeals had ordered Fuji to reinstate her, Espiritu said is not seeking her old job. "I am happy where I am now. I have proven my point."

But she hoped the judgment would help other cancer patients who might find themselves in the same situation.

A recent photo of Arlene, now cancer-free, with husband Reggie Espiritu