Be the Boss Over Cancer

Legal Questions

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Cancer and the ADA: Americans with Disability Act

A federal law that most people have heard of, but don't usually think has anything to do with a disease like cancer is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, the ADA prohibits all types of discrimination based on:

  • Actual disability
  • A perceived history of a disability
  • A misperception of current disability
  • History of disability

From July 1992 to July 1994, the act covered employers with 25 or more employees. After July 1994, ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees. If you have cancer, this law may cover you if: 1) you choose to disclose you diagnosis to your supervisor, and 2) require reasonable workplace accommodations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)...

  • protects eligible cancer survivors from discrimination in the workplace.
  • requires eligible employers to make “reasonable accommodations” to allow employees to function properly on the job. Accommodations may include modifying work schedules, reassigning an employee to a less physically taxing position or providing a more comfortable chair.
  • ensures that employers must treat all employees equally.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA):

In 2008 the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law. The amendments broaden the numbers of those who are eligible for protection by extending and clarifying the conditions covered. A disability, as originally defined by the ADA, is a physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits” a major life activity. The ADAAA, however, amends the ADA by giving a broader definition of “major life activity” that includes, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, breathing and thinking.

Importantly, “major life activity” now also includes “major bodily functions,” such as immune system functioning, normal cell growth, and endocrine and reproductive functions. Additionally, an individual with a disability is not deprived of the right to a reasonable accommodation merely because his or her condition is controlled by “mitigating measures” (something that takes away the symptoms/relieves the obvious problem), such as medications or a prosthetic device, or because the condition is in remission, or because it only arises occasionally.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which oversees the enforcement of the ADA, publishes “The ADA: Your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability” and many other ADA-related documents in the Publications section of their website. Visit

These are simply a few of the protections that the law provides. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Justice's ADA home page at and The EEOC’s page on the ADAAA at

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)...

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) gives you the right to take time off due to illness or caring for an ill dependent without losing your job. This law:

  • guarantees that eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, which can be used all at once or in increments as short as a few hours at a time.
  • guarantees that eligible employees maintain their health insurance benefits while out on leave.
  • guarantees that an employee who returns to work will be given his or her previous position or an equivalent job with the same salary, benefits and other conditions of employment.

To qualify for FMLA, an employee must have worked for his or her employer for at least 12 months, including at least 1,250 hours during the most recent 12 months. The law applies to workers at all government agencies and schools nationwide, as well as private companies with 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Labor's FMLA web page at

The Federal Rehabilitation Act

Like the ADA, the Federal Rehabilitation Act, prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because they have cancer. This act however, applies only to employees of the federal government, as well as private and public employers who receive public funds.

For more information on The Federal Rehabilitation Act, contact the Access Unit, Civil Rights Division, Department of Justice. Your Rights Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (pdf)

There also may be regulations specific to your state or municipality that deal with work place discrimination. To find out more information, contact your state attorney general's office.

Nothing in this document is intended to provide legal advice or legal opinions on any specific matter. Cancer and Careers recommends seeking professional legal counsel for any questions about a specific situation.