Employer convicted for firing employee due to cancer
Unia filed a lawsuit against an employer who had fired a female employee, two years ago, because of her illness. The Ghent Labour Court (Kortrijk division) ordered the employer to pay compensation of 22,000 euros to the employee.
The antidiscrimination law protects patients suffering from (long-term) illness. ‘If the employer knows that one of the workers has a long-term illness such as cancer, for example, then consideration must be given to how that person can continue to work. Cancer in and of itself cannot be a reason for terminating the contract’, says Unia director Els Keytsman.
Failed negotiation attempt
The woman on whose behalf Unia went to court had already held her job for several years when she found out that she had cancer. Her boss fired her because of her long absence. ‘After discussing the matter with the woman and a failed attempt to negotiate a resolution with her boss, we decided to take legal action’, says Keytsman.
The court ruled that in this case, there had effectively been discrimination based on health status.
Keytsman continues: ‘The decision to fire someone is a serious one. The employer must demonstrate that the dismissal was necessary in light of the company context and that there were no alternatives available. If this cannot be proven, then the dismissal is unjustified.’
Unia is noticing that employers are increasingly quick to fire employees without thoroughly exploring how the person might be able to continue working. ‘Employers need to make a shift in mindset towards looking at possibilities to keep the person employed. They are also too quick to argue that the continuity of the business is at risk, without effectively demonstrating that this is the case.’
The judgement (with names redacted) in Dutch is available via the link at the side of this page.
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