BUSINESS
05/15/2012 12:20 pm ET

Cancer Survivors Face Workplace Discrimination In Japan: Report

Struggling with a cancer diagnosis is difficult enough. But for many, that's only the start.

Japanese employers have discriminated heavily against cancer survivors, according to a survey by American Family Life Assurance Co. (Aflac) cited by the Japan Times. The survey found more than 10 percent of cancer patients in Japan had been dismissed from their jobs, and 30 percent said that their pay had decreased. Cancer patients do not receive the benefits and safeguards provided to other workers with disabilities in Japan, the Japan Times reports.

Indeed, in a study published this year in Pediatrics International, researchers Asami K., Ishida Y. and Sakamoto N. found that a few private companies in Japan and some public offices outright reject cancer survivors based on their medical history.

Both the frequency of cancer and employer-related discrimination against the afflicted have roots that run deep in Japan. The prevalence of cancer in the country increased steadily since the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, finally becoming the primary cause of death in 1981, according to the Japan Cancer Society. By 2010, cancer accounted for one in every three deaths, with half of Japan's population now estimated to suffer some form of the disease in their lifetime.

Employment discrimination against cancer survivors isn't limited to Japan though. A grandmother in Texas sued her former employer, the Crowne Plaza Houston, claiming the hotel fired her because she had breast cancer, ABC News reports. Janet Hustus says that she was fired shortly after she returned to work because of concerns about insurance costs, even though her employer agreed to work around her surgery schedule after the diagnosis.

In addition, a 1991 study from researchers at Seton Hall's law school found that about 25 percent of U.S. workers with a history of cancer faced discrimination because of their medical history.

Still, unlike in Japan, cancer patients in the United States are given many of the same workplace protections as American workers with disabilities.

Employers that decide to flout the law anyway can pay a hefty bill for their practices. Discriminating based on race, gender or sexual orientation costs businesses an estimated $64 billion per year, according to a report from earlier this year.

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