Employer convicted for firing employee due to cancer

20 December 2016
Area of action: Employment
Grounds of discrimination: Disability

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.

Serious decision

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.

Comparable articles

12 March 2018

Court describes effects of cancer as disability for the first time

An employer should have made adaptations to enable a woman who was unable to work for a long time due to cancer to continue doing her job, according to a ruling by the Brussels Labour Court. This is the first time that a court has recognised the lasting effects of cancer as a disability. The judge ordered the employer to pay 12,500 euros in compensation to the employee for discrimination. Unia acted as intervener in the case.