Disability is dealt with in Section 9 of the Constitution as one of the grounds on which a person must not be discriminated against.
According to the Employment Equity Act, People in South Africa with disabilities are people who have a long-term or recurring physical, including sensory or mental impairment which substantially limits their prospect of entry into or advancement in employment.
Illness, including cancer like HIV affects all corners of life. But even if it is a life threatening disease, it is not necessary labelled as a disability in most instances.
In the matter of Hoffman v SAA, it was held that the employer had violated Mr Hoffman’s rights when he was dismissed for having HIV. The court held that HIV did not prevent Mr Hoffman from performing his duties. The court also held that people living with disability have the right not to be discriminated against in any manner by the employer or other employees, even if the disability limits the person’s abilities to do certain things, but that does not perse mean employers should discriminate against them on the basis of their disability or their HIV status. As long as people with disability can still perform their functions for which they are employed, they are entitled to continue performing those duties and functions for which they were employed. That only to the extent of the employer becoming medically incapacitated to perform his/her duties and functions, may the employer then act accordingly either for incapacity to the extent of the incapacitation or operationally as far as the incapacity affects the operations of the employer.
Here are some good reasons to tell your boss about your diagnosis of cancer:
- You will be protected from job discrimination by the discrimination laws if your boss is informed about your diagnosis.
- You may need extra sick leave for cancer treatments and recovery. Your boss can connect you with your Human Resources office so you can receive additional sick leave hours and possible other benefits allowed by your employer.
- Your treatment side effects may temporarily affect your job performance, so ask your boss for help or reasonable accommodations/assistance.
Prepare yourself before talking to your boss.
Before sharing the news with your employer, consider what facts they will need to know and how much detail you are willing to share.
You may know your general diagnosis, have a treatment schedule planned, and know how side effects may affect your time at work.
Write those down and if you may need to ask for reasonable accommodations/assistance, note those as well.
If you don’t have many details yet, just gather up what you do know and prepare to be honest about your lack of knowledge.
Set a positive tone for the conversation and your boss will take their cues from your behaviour.
- If you are nervous, read from your prepared notes as you tell your boss about your diagnosis.
- Remember, if your boss asks a question about your diagnosis or treatment and you have no ready answer, it is okay to say, “I don’t know yet, but I will find out and let you know.”
- Ask that your private conversations with your boss be kept confidential.
- Be honest about your emotions. You don’t have to hide your feelings, but try to keep your tears from taking over the conversation.
- Do keep notes about what you talked about, with whom, and when. File these under “Work Issues” in your health notebook.
Get the correct Story on your Sick Leave, i.e.: your precise leave entitlement for annual leave, sick leave, family responsibility leave, etc.
Once you have told your boss that you have cancer, it is time to ask some questions and take notes.
- Your boss should know who the best person to contact in the Human Resources office is.
- You can ask for a copy of the Sick Leave Policy and instructions on how to use the Sick Leave
- Be sure to ask how to apply for sick leave in case you need them.
- Your employer may require some certificationabout your medical condition – ask what forms of certification will be needed.
- If finances might become a problem, ask if there are any Employee Assistance Programs available to you.
- Find out if there is a cancer support group in your company and how you can get connected with it/them.
- If you’ve decided not to work through cancer treatment, ask if you can keep your employer’s insurance benefits if and where applicable.
Key Points about Telling Your Employer That You Have Cancer
Although it may be difficult, it is in your best interest to tell your boss about your cancer diagnosis. You will get job protection, extra sick leave, and reasonable accommodations/assistance to help you work during treatment.
- Prepare yourself, stay calm, and have the conversation in confidence.
- Keep a paper trailof all documents relating to your sick leave, medical certification, company policies, and be sure to save copies of any emails or notes that you took along the way.
- If you are uncertain and want professional advice about how to talk to your boss, speak with an oncology social worker, counsellor, or patient advocate about work issues (Patient advocacy is an area of specialization in health care concerned with advocacy for patients, survivors, and carers. The patient advocate may be an individual or an organization, often, though not always, concerned with one specific group of disorders).
- Always keep the lines of communication open between you and your employer. They may become one of your great supporters.
Can/Should I Work During Treatment for Cancer?
You have been diagnosed with cancer and presented with a treatment plan, your calendar is filling up quickly, and you feel like you’ve taken on a second job! Perhaps you’re wondering if you can keep working while you’re in treatment for cancer. Consider your health, your treatment plan, and your financial situation – then decide on whether or not continuing to work will work for you.
How to Consider Balancing Work and Treatment
Before you start treatment, talk to your doctor about the kind of work you do. Describe your tasks and responsibilities as well as how much time you are normally at work. Ask your doctor or nurse practitioner about possible side effects you should expect with treatment, and how these can be managed. Be realistic about your present health, the stage of your cancer, and other commitments you may have away from the job. Remember that effects of treatment are cumulative, and that as you near the end of treatment, you may need a block of unbroken time in which to recover. With these factors in mind, consider your ability to keep working while in treatment.
Give A Little, Take A Little
Be sure you know your employer’s sick leave policy and your employment rights before you inform your boss about your diagnosis. Prepare a list of ways that you might compromise and still fulfil your obligations.
Be clear that you want to keep working, but may need reasonable accommodation/assistance in order to work. Ask about:
- Telecommuting or working from your home
- Cross training and sharing your work duties with other employees
- Flexitime meaning changing your work hours or cutting back on hours
Taking a Break from Work/leave
Sometimes the side effects of treatment or the cancer itself will get the best of your energy and health.
If that happens, you may decide not to work through treatment. Talk with your supervisor and the human resources department about taking a leave, or claiming short-term disability insurance to tide you over for a while (for those who are fortunate enough to have taken such cover). If you do have disability cover, speak with your doctor about how you’re feeling and ask if you would qualify for disability. If you settle on quitting work for now, look into your work disability insurance as well as early retirement. Make sure that you will still be covered by medical aid should you claim disability and/or early retirement. It may pay you to remain employed in order to ensure that you are covered for medical expenses.
Consider and reconsider Your Decision over Time before you make a final and binding decision. With other words, know the financial consequences of your decision.
None of us can predict exactly how we will feel during cancer treatment, so take some time at intervals during your treatment to rethink your decision. You may decide that you were overzealous and that working won’t work for you. In contrast, you may have taken off time, but feel bored and anxious to return to your job. Many of us find social support among those we work with, and what appeared to be a time of peace away from the grind may instead feel lonely. Be flexible, and give yourself the benefit of being able to change your mind. Seek this flexibility in approach from your employer rather than firm fixed stances which cannot accommodate change.
Working Through Cancer Treatment
Many patients do work through cancer treatment. If you’ve confided in your co-workers, they may be able to support you on the job. On days that you need extra help, they might give you a ride or help with demanding tasks, while on other days when you’re at home; they may be willing to bring work to you.
If some of your co-workers are uncomfortable around you, just try to let it go. Pick your battles carefully and hoard your energy for important things.
Join care groups that can be immensely helpful with resources, individuals that are going through the same experience who may help you find solutions to common experienced problems.
Cancer patients and their employers need to understand their rights and obligations and also what can be expected on this “the cancer journey”.
Supervisors and managers are expected to proactively manage the challenges faced in the workplace when dealing with a cancer diagnosis, however, in SA there is a long road still needed to be travelled.
Campaigning for Cancer has collaborated with key stakeholders to develop a written Cancer@Work Programme, the first of its kind in South Africa, which offers employer and employee workshops, step-by-step guides on handling cancer in the workplace and access to resources with information about legal rights relating to employment, step-by-step guides explaining the journey of a cancer patient for employees, co-workers and the employers that will encourage open dialogue.
“As part of Campaigning for Cancer’s aim to lobby for the promotion and protection of the rights of patients and those affected by cancer, the larger Cancer@Work Programme will guide a company in establishing and implementing a cancer policy in the work place and help to gather important data regarding how cancer is viewed in South African workplaces,” said Campaigning for Cancer CEO, Lauren Pretorius.
“The first step in helping South African employers and employees exercise their rights afforded to them by our country’s laws and constitution, is by providing them with access to information that is reliable and easy to understand,” commented Bradley Workman-Davies, Director in the Employment Practice Area at Werksmans Attorneys and co-author of the Cancer@Work Programme.
Campaigning for Cancer strives for a South Africa where people affected by cancer receive fair, appropriate, timeous and respectful treatment and care by lobbying for the promotion and protection of the rights of patients and those affected by cancer with regard to policy, healthcare costs and healthcare delivery.
This is done on an individual level – changing one life at a time – by providing people with the knowledge and tools to see their treatment process through; as well as on a larger scale – by noting issues highlighted by these individual cases and lobbying for policy change that will affect all of society. For more information, please visit www.campaign4cancer.co.za
Campaigning for Cancer collaborates with corporate law firm, Werksmans Attorneys, in a “walk together” approach of active engagement around cancer patients’ healthcare rights and healthcare law in general. For more information, please visit www.werksmans.com
Denied cancer treatment? Phone the Ask Now Call Centre on 0861 275 669 (0861 ASK NOW) for help.
Advocacy is the process of trying to change policies to reflect the needs of individuals and communities. Patient advocacy provides opportunities for NGOs, cancer patients, their families and supporters to become involved in the decision-making processes that affect their lives as well as become empowered to speak up about their needs and take an active role in ensuring that they receive appropriate cancer treatment and care.
In general, advocacy is defined as the active support of an idea or cause. It means that people raise their voices to push for or argue for something that is important to them.
Advocacy work includes many different activities such as lobbying, mobilisation, education, research, prayer and networking. It can be undertaken alone, with a group of people or as part of a network. It can be spontaneous or carefully planned a one-off intervention or an on-going process. We can undertake advocacy through speaking out against injustice, defending the cause of the poor, holding those in power to account, and empowering people to speak out for themselves.
Anyone can undertake advocacy work – it does not need to be left to professionals or experts. It means doing something even if it is as simple as talking to your neighbour about the issue that is important to you
The types of advocacy
Advocacy is about working on individual cases, such as one patient getting access to a treatment they may have been denied, and about campaigning on issues, such as ensuring that there is an up to date cancer registry that can tell us the types of cancers that are common in South Africa or who they are affecting.
Self-advocacy begins with individual patients speaking up to ensure their own quality of care. Family and friends can also become advocates to help individual patients secure services. The role of the cancer NGO is to provide the education and information regarding these rights, process and tools on how to speak up.
Systems-level change advocacy is working towards making changes in service systems, use of funds, public policies, laws, regulations to impact many people. The role of the cancer NGO is to lobby, at relevant levels, with stakeholders and decision makes to drive this process.
The benefits of advocacy
Advocacy leads to change. If no one raises their voice about an issue that is not receiving the attention it deserves, then nothing changes. Advocacy is important because it brings something that may seem unimportant to the attention of those who have the power to carry out change.
- Advocacy makes people aware of their own power.
- Advocacy can tackle root causes of injustice and brings long-term change.
- Advocacy uses people as agents of change in their own communities so the change happens from the ground up.
- Advocacy can help to generate more resources for cancer patients.
Ultimately, advocacy seeks to improve the lives of cancer patients and those affected by the disease.
Why is cancer advocacy important to South Africans?
Cancer in South Africa does not get the attention it needs, both from the everyday man and from our government. Dr Barry Kistnasamy from the National Cancer Registry was recently quoted for stating that cancer is the fourth biggest killer of South Africans, in spite of the fact that the most common cancers (in South Africa) are treatable if detected early enough. This means that we as South Africans are not educated about these treatable cancers – because if we knew, surely we would be doing something to make sure that we do not die from an illness we can do something about. It also means that our government may not be providing the services that we need to treat these treatable cancers. Advocacy ensures that the public is educated and aware and it means ensuring that services such as treatment are available and accessible.