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  • Writer's pictureDavid Manes

How Does Employment Law Protect Cancer Patients and Survivors?

Cancer employment discrimination complicates the lives of cancer patients that are still qualified and capable to perform their job. A cancer diagnosis can mean discrimination in the workplace with eventual termination. That’s the last thing a cancer patient needs or wants, especially with the encroaching cancer treatment costs.

Every cancer patient is different, working with a different situation and different job. Therefore, some will choose to continue working while others might take work leave.

Possible Cancer Employment Discrimination

Employees with cancer have noted that once their diagnosis gets out, they might experience employment discrimination. The actions and words can be subtle or obvious. Many coworkers and supervisors might begin to interact with you under the assumption that your cancer will make you less productive. This does not excuse the workplace discrimination.

  1. Demotions without good reason

  2. Promotion missed despite hard work and company expectation

  3. New position but overlooked

  4. Lack of flexibility for time off for medical appointments

  5. Left out of decision making and training due to sick leave

Overall, employers tend to be very sensitive to accommodating employees who are dealing with cancer treatment or helping a family member with cancer. However, employees still noted that they were given less work, sometimes fired or denied a promotion, or lost health benefits.

How Does Employment Law Protect Cancer Patients and Survivors?

Often cancer patients and survivors desire to maintain as much normality in their lives as possible, including their work routine. Employment law absolutely provides protections to employees with this condition. Three federal laws outline these protections while the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) regulates the legal protections.

Man stands in front of bus

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA outlines the rules for protecting employees from negative employment action while at work due to a disability, whether perceived, current, or past. Reasonable accommodations are required under this law, including possible flexible scheduling, working from home, or something else. Only when an employer can prove undue hardship can a reasonable accommodation be denied.

Pregnancy Employee Rights

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA gives eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave for medical and family situations. This law prohibits employers from terminating or retaliating against an employee due to use of FMLA leave. Not every employee is eligible for FMLA leave because an employer must also meet certain parameters.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)

While the two laws above focus on your rights while employed, the GINA focuses on how your genetic information can be used. For example, genetic information cannot be requested by employers or health insurers. This information remains private so that you won’t deal with less health coverage or loss of a job opportunity.

Reasonable Accommodation according to ADA

The ADA provides the legal oomph for employees to request a reasonable accommodation from their employer. Both employee and employer are then required to participate in an interactive process to determine the best accommodation for the employee. Reasonable accommodations can be requested even before hiring.

A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment that an employer makes to help a qualified employee with a disability to perform essential tasks of the job.

man standing at laptop

Examples of Reasonable Accommodation

  1. Equipment adaption or specialized equipment

  2. Job restructure

  3. Work schedule change

  4. Position reassignment

  5. Test, training, policy modifications

  6. Accessible workplace

  7. Leave for medical treatment and recuperation

  8. Work from home

  9. More break allowances

Can an Employer Ask About my Cancer History?

Federal and state law make certain questions illegal for an employer to ask during an interview. Generally, an employer cannot and should not ask whether or not you have had cancer. The employer only has a right to know whether or not you are capable and qualified to do the job that you are applying for. An employer can only ask if you believe you need a reasonable accommodation.

You do not need to volunteer any health information. However, you may need to request an accommodation due to radiation fatigue or some other side effect. Requests for accommodations trigger ADA protections from retaliation for your disability.

Once a job offer is on the table, an employer may ask more detailed health-related questions. Employers still need to be smart in how and what they ask about employees.

If you believe that you’ve experienced cancer employment discrimination, you may want to consult a lawyer to determine your legal options.

Chat with an employment attorney: (412) 626-5626 or

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