As a recent law school graduate, I have not had many opportunities yet to work in the area of cancer rights law. That's why I feel so lucky to have the amazing Joanna Morales, Esq., cancer rights attorney and CEO of Navigating Cancer Survivorship, giving me one-on-one training sessions on the most important topics affecting survivors. As I go through these sessions, I will be writing a series of blogs on what I'm learning, and what every advocate, caregiver, and survivor should know as well.
The first two topics Joanna and I have focused on have included the Americans with Disabilities Act and reasonable accommodations. As many people know, the ADA is a federal law that protects eligible cancer survivors from discrimination in the workplace. This law applies in situations including discrimination in interviews, hiring, promotions, leave, benefits, and more. While the ADA covers employers with 15 or more people, state laws may be much broader and expand the coverage to employers with far fewer employees, so make sure you always check out your state's fair employment laws. Also of note, since the ADA Amendments Act's passage in 2008, more survivors are finding themselves protected as the definition of disability was construed to specifically be more inclusive. For more info on eligibility under the ADA and its coverage, check out this great CAC overview.
The ADA also states that employers must offer eligible cancer survivors reasonable accommodations, which is any adjustment in the work environment that ensures survivors receive equal benefits of employment. These accommodations may include a flexible work schedule for weekly chemo appointments, a telecommuting option, or simply providing a more comfortable chair. While employers must do their best to accommodate an employee with a disability, employees should make sure they request the modification as soon as the need for the adjustment becomes apparent and before performance issues arise, as performance issues may lead to disciplinary action if the employer is uninformed of the need. It is also imperative that the employee has thought through their decision to disclose their diagnosis and has researched their eligibility for protection under the ADA before they speak with their employer. For more info on possible accommodations and tips on the best way to begin this conversation with your employer, the Job Accommodation Network is a fantastic resource.
If you have any further questions or believe that your employment rights may have been violated on the basis of disability, please contact the Cancer Legal Resource Center and/or the EEOC for more information. And make sure to stay tuned for Part II, which will go over job applicants, medical exams, and taking time off of work!