Terminating employment during illness: What not to do

by Sarah Megginson15 Sep 2014
It’s possibly the worst reaction you could have to your staff member’s cancer diagnosis – and it’s made worse by the fact that it was delivered to a loyal employee of 12 years service.
In August, Pennsylvania woman Carol Jumper was diagnosed with cancer affecting her pancreas, liver and ovaries. Shortly after telling her employer, oral surgeon Dr. George Visnich, of her diagnosis, she received a handwritten letter in the mail.
“You are currently engaged in a battle against cancer that will be demanding physically, mentally and emotionally,” her boss wrote in the letter, which has since gone viral.
“The symptoms of the disease, the pain medications you will need and the side effects of the chemotherapy will be significant and distracting.
“You will not be able to function in my office at the level required while battling for your life. Because of this, I am laying you off without pay as of August 11, 2014. Your last paycheck will be mailed to you this Friday, 8/15/14.”
The doctor has since claimed through his lawyer that the letter was sent in Jumper’s “best interests”, as it allowed her to file for unemployment benefits, which last for 26 weeks.
“She doesn’t have to worry about going to work, she still has a source of income, and she can concentrate her efforts on getting better,” his attorney Larry Kelly said.
Kelly also said the letter was sent on the understanding that Jumper would get her job back once she recovered.
“We haven’t reached out to her because Ms. Jumper is a woman who is undergoing very aggressive treatment and should only be worried about one thing… getting better,” he added.
Tim Capelin, Piper Alderman (Sydney), Belinda Winter, Cooper Grace Ward (Brisbane) and Tim Lange, Piper Alderman (Melbourne) will give a presentation on the topic of terminating ill and injured workers at the Employment Law for HR Manager masterclass events, held in November. Click here for more information and to register.
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  • by HR Professional 15/09/2014 12:34:09 PM

    Sadly an everyday occurence across many companies Australia wide. The FW act allows for 3 months, after that its the employers discretion.

  • by Suzanna Smith 15/09/2014 1:09:51 PM

    Our receptionist was diagnosed with a voracious form of cancer and I am really proud of the company I work for, and the way they handled it. She was able to attend work as little or as much as she wanted to, and was paid full pay. The other staff happily agreed to pick up any slack, taking on jobs not usually within their job description, rather than take on a temp, so that she still felt useful and valued within the company. She was given a cleaner for her home and a home delivery account so she didn't have to worry about getting groceries. We fought tooth and nail against cold hearted airlines arranging for family to be there with her, and the Directors sought legal advice for her so she could ensure her Estate was sorted. Everyone kept in constant touch, and she was provided with every possible form of support. We are only a small company, yet not once did anyone complain about the workload, nor did the directors ever consider deducting sick days or holiday leave. They would never have considered terminating her. And this was after 2 years of service. Some companies DO have a heart.

  • by New Young Professional 16/09/2014 12:04:14 PM

    A reaction like that especially given she was an employee of 12 years is an embarrassment to the profession.

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