Be the Boss Over Cancer

I have a permanent colostomy that's quite unmanageable. I've been denied disability and unemployment and desperately need to find a job with access to a private restroom. At what point in the job-seeking process should I broach that subject? I fear nobody will hire me because of the circumstances.


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  • Eva LaManna

    Eva LaManna on Aug 28, 2013

    Cancer Rights Attorney Comment:


    I'm sorry to hear about this issue you're facing, and I hope that the below information will help you figure out your next step.


    You bring up an important
    question of how and when you disclose your medical condition to a potential or
    future employer. You are not necessarily required to provide your potential
    employer with information about your specific diagnosis, but at some point you
    may need to provide enough information about your medical condition in order to
    be eligible for a reasonable accommodation under
    the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at your workplace.


    First some basics: the ADA:  the ADA is a federal law that provides protections by preventing
    certain employers from making employment decisions based on an employee’s
    medical condition, which may include cancer or a side effect related to cancer treatment.  This law only applies to private employers with 15
    or more employees and the employee must be qualified for the job in question and have a disability based on the ADA's definition of what one is. If the requirements are met, it may protect against discrimination in situations such as
    taking leave from work or requesting reasonable accommodations.  You may also be similarly protected under a state fair
    employment law. 

    Under the ADA, employers
    are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with a
    disability, as long as the accommodation requested won’t cause the employer an
    undue hardship. Reasonable accommodations are changes in your workplace that
    will help you to continue to perform your job. For example, having a nearby restroom
    might be a reasonable accommodation, depending on your workplace and your job
    responsibilities. If you find that you do need an accommodation at work – and
    it seems like you think you might – then you may need to share
    some information about your medical condition with your employer because in order to
    use the ADA’s protections in the workplace, your employer must be aware of your
    disability. They can't be discriminating against you if they don't know there is something to be discriminating against. Additionally, you have to be able to justify why you’re entitled to a
    private bathroom, which will necessitate sharing some information about your medical
    condition. This doesn’t necessarily require that you disclose your exact diagnosis,
    just that you have a condition that is causing you to need this accommodation. Your healthcare team will have to provide and medical certification so it is important that you let them know how much information you want to disclose.


    Now comes
    the question of when to tell.  Under the ADA,
    a job applicant is never required to disclose anything about their health or
    their medical conditions to a potential employer. In the interview process, the
    ADA limits an employer’s ability to make disability-related inquiries before
    they make a job offer. So for example they cannot ask “Do you have any medical
    conditions?” or “Have you ever had cancer?” They are only allowed to ask, “Can
    you perform the essential functions of the job".  If you have a visible disability - for example
    if you utilize a wheelchair - they still can’t ask additional questions. And if
    your answer is yes, they have to accept that. You are not obligated to disclose to them that you might need a reasonable accommodation after you begin the

    After you
    are offered the job, your employer cannot withdraw their offer once your
    disability is revealed and you request the reasonable accommodation.  They can withdraw the offer only if it shows
    that you’re unable to perform essential functions of the job or that you pose
    significant risk of causing substantial harm to yourself or others.

    For more
    information and suggestions on reasonable accommodations, I would suggest
    visiting  For more information about the ADA or if you
    feel that you are being discriminated against in the job search process, visit

    Feel free to
    reach back with any additional questions or concerns. 


    Eva LaManna, Esq.

    Manager of Programs

    note that the above information is designed to provide general information on
    the topics presented. It is provided with the understanding that the Cancer and
    Careers is not engaged in rendering any legal or professional services in the
    information provided above. The information provided should not be used as a
    substitute for professional services.

  • Rebecca Nellis

    Rebecca Nellis on Aug 28, 2013

    Cancer and Careers Staff Comment:

    Hi Kevin,

    Eva has given you a lot of really critical info to understand how the ADA might work for you. Just a couple additional thoughts.  Since you know you will need an accommodation, it might make sense for you to focus your job search on companies that are large enough to be bound by the ADA (meaning looking for work with a company that has 15 or more employees).  In addition, we generally suggest that you request an accommodation when you know you need one but not before.  So if you think it might be something you will require but you aren't sure and it depends on the circumstances of the work environment then you might want to wait to ask for it until you are in the job and can assess.  If, however, you are certain you can't accept a job without the accommodation then you will want to be strategic about when you bring it up.  It probably won't feel right in the initial phone screen or first interview as that is when both sides of the prospective employer/employee relationship are trying to feel out fit, chemistry, skills, job demands, etc. and so it would be a bit premature.  You might want to wait until you have a sense of how interested they are in you (and you in them) or even until they make an offer and then discuss it as part of the negotiations.  There is no one right answer and what is most important is your own comfort, physical and mental.  At some point, you will have to trust your instincts.

    Please be in touch with any follow up questions!

    Good luck!

    Rebecca V. Nellis
    VP, Programs and Strategy

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