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Is cancer survivor ‘taking advantage’ of company?

Dear Office-Politics,

I just had my review. I’ve been with this company for 10 years and I love it here. I’ve never had a problem and my reviews have always been excellent. But two years ago I was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to have surgery right away.

I went through chemo and radiation treatments that went on for one year. On a visit to my Doctor the following August, I was told that I had severe dysplasia and needed to have a complete hysterectomy ASAP.

The last year has been not so good. I’ve been out a lot, my immune system isn’t what it should be and it’s just taking time to get it back. Before this I’d hardly ever missed a day of work. My boss said that I do excellent work and he doesn’t know how I get all my work done. (My work load is twice that of any one else in my department. I am a good worker, not to toot my own horn, and my work is flawless.) But he did say that I’ve missed too many days, 29 to be exact. I reminded him that I only took one day of my three weeks’ vacation, and he said “Oh I didn’t think about that.” He went on to say that he felt that I was taking advantage of the situation and him. I didn’t quite know what to say… How could he possibly think this of me? I’ve completed my work and even when I was out for my medical leave, no one had to do my work. I handled it to the point that no one had to pick up my slack in my absence. I’m not sure why he feels this way, and had no idea until my review. Does the eight years of my excellent attendance just cancel out? I don’t get it.

Maybe I expect too much… I didn’t take my vacation because I felt guilty already for having to be out so much. I thought they would cancel each other out. I don’t get it. I feel hurt. They told me in the past it would take three people to replace me. When I’m around the “big guys” of the company, where I once felt comfortable, I now feel like they think I’ve taken advantage of them. It is so far from the truth. I feel like maybe I should find another job. I don’t know what to think. I just feel so hurt.

What should I do, is it a matter of pride? Should I stand up for myself, or just shut up and let time “reprove” my worth?

Please be candid with your answer. If I’m expecting too much out of a Corporation, I need to know. I look back and I don’t see anything that I could of possibly done different.


Striving to be Healthy Again

franke james

Dear Striving to be Healthy Again,

It sounds to me like you’re doing the best you can! You are under tremendous pressure and are to be admired for coping as well as you have.

Your unfortunate medical situation highlights a number of pressing issues around employee health care. To answer your letter, I consulted with Office-Politics adviser and lawyer, Dr. John Burton. I also contacted a business associate, Chris, whose wife is currently fighting leukemia.

Chris pointed out a couple of harsh realities: He wrote, “First, corporations and companies of all sizes have ‘right sized’ their staffs to a very lean level, so when someone is away, the impact is felt. Second, incidences of cancer are on the rise. The stats are staggering. One in two males and one in three females will face a diagnosis of cancer in their lives. At this stage, I do not believe that corporations and companies can easily cope with these stats and numbers.”

Chris summarized an action plan for you:

1) I think Striving to be Healthy may want to look at the option of “homesourcing” some of her work. Getting it done at home in a tranquil environment versus the office.

2) I think she should check in with her HR department, assuming that her company is of the size where there is one. If not, she should have a chat with her boss and share with him the real facts about her productivity, days missed due to illness, etc. and establish a plan that works for both parties. The new normal.

3) The big challenge this woman faces is the issue of her job and her insurance benefits. Should she become unemployed, what are her options for new employment and health benefits?

Dr. Burton: ‘Incredible insensitivity from the employer’

Dr. Burton advised, “What this woman describes is incredible insensitivity from the employer. My inclination is to advise her to seek legal counsel to determine what help the law provides to someone in such a situation. The situation seems to me to be beyond any initiative that she might make, by which I mean it sounds like these folks are pretty good at ignoring her and running roughshod over her. She needs a pit bull on her team.”

The unpleasant fact
I agree with the advice given by Chris and Dr. Burton. You must recognize this unpleasant fact. Through no fault of your own, and despite your best efforts, you have become a liability for the company. We cannot rely on employers to ‘do the right thing’ in times of adversity like this. You need the protection of the law. I think the best course of action for you is to seek legal advice so you know what your rights are.

Lay the facts on the table
Once you know your rights (I suggest you write them down point by point so you’re sure you’ve grasped them clearly and don’t get flustered) you could request a meeting with your boss. Lay the facts on the table as you see them. What are they required to provide for you contractually? What accommodation can they make now so that you can continue to be a productive member on the team? (e.g. Chris’ idea about working from home a few days a week.) Make the points that you’ve outlined in your letter about your excellent work to date, and your days off versus holidays.

Companies are allergic to litigation and adverse publicity
This factor is in your favor: Companies are allergic to litigation and adverse publicity. Most will do everything they can to avoid it. If you present a reasoned case, showing what your rights are, as evidenced by your employment contract, then the company may agree to special concessions for you until you are healthy again. However, in the event they are not receptive, you may need to take legal action. As Dr. Burton suggested you need an advocate who can act as a pit bull to defend your rights.

Please let us know how things work out. Thanks very much for writing to Office-Politics.


Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game


Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.

  1. One Answer to “Is cancer survivor ‘taking advantage’ of company?”


    Thank you so much. This if anything validated what I was feeling.

    By Letter-writer: Striving on Oct 24, 2007

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