By Elias Hazou
In a case that has shocked many, a recovered cancer patient who had taken sick leave for treatment was sacked by her employer, apparently with no warning, days after returning to her workplace.
Nicosia resident Maria Iliofotou posted her gut-wrenching experience on her Facebook page, drawing thousands of messages of sympathy.
After being treated for a year for breast cancer – including a mastectomy, three chemotherapy cycles, and radiotherapy – Iliofotou made a full recovery and was able to return to her place of work on February 1.
She was welcomed back by her colleagues and employer, thinking she would get her old job back.
But on February 4 – ironically coinciding with World Cancer Day 2016 – Iliofotou received a letter from her employer advising her that she was being laid off due to her long absence.
She was told they had to let her go because in the meantime the company had to hire other staff to do her work.
A convenience translation of the employer’s letter, published by Sigmalive, reads as follows:
“As a goodwill gesture, however, and recognising your unfortunate personal circumstances, the Company is willing to gratuitously pay you the amount you would have received as surplus staff, that is, 8 weeks advance warning plus 15 1/2 weeks compensation.
“The total amount comes to €13,500. It is understood that on payment of the above gratuitous amount you shall have no other demand on the Company regarding your employment or otherwise.”
Speaking on Sigma television, Anna Achileoudi, chairman of PASYKAF (Cyprus Association of Cancer Patients and Friends) lamented this “unacceptable behaviour” on the part of the employer in question.
The woman was let go without any prior warning, she said.
Achileoudi said she knew of other similar cases, but that women are usually reluctant to go public.
Nicolas Philippou, general manager of PASYKAF, said that laws would need to be amended to further protect employees’ rights in such cases.
As they stand, laws are currently slanted in the employer’s favour, he added.
Appearing on the same show, Androulla Vassiliou, who chairs the board of trustees of the Bank of Cyprus Oncology Centre, said Cypriots are unaccustomed to such “inhumane treatment”.
The woman, said Vassiliou, had suffered doubly: first from the physical and emotional distress of going through cancer, and then her unceremonious sacking.
The case has received considerable traction in the media. DISY MP Stella Kyriakidou urged the woman to get in touch with her.
AKEL said on Monday it has tabled for discussion the matter of the working rights of cancer patients and other patients suffering from chronic diseases.
In a statement issued later on Monday, the company – VHP Varnavas Hadjipanayis Ltd – said they regretted the “poor handling” of the case.
The company conceded they had “overlooked the human factor, and for that we are sorry.”
They went on to say they have since contacted Iliofotou, expressing to her their sincere apologies.
Following this communication, the company added, they have decided to pay the woman the maximum compensation allowed under the relevant legislation, “which amounts to two years’ full pay plus advance warning”.