A cancer diagnosis can affect a person’s work life to different degrees. Many people are able to continue working during cancer treatment. Others leave their jobs and then return after active cancer treatment ends.
People who work during treatment or return to work after treatment may encounter obvious or subtle workplace discrimination.
For example, some employers and colleagues may assume that a person will be less productive or perform below the company's expectations. Other examples of discriminatory actions include:
- Being demoted without a clear reason
- Being overlooked for new positions
- Not receiving a promotion that you have earned
- Finding a lack of flexibility when you request time off for medical appointments
- Being left out of training or decision-making opportunities when you use sick leave for scheduled medical appointments
How to Enforce Your Legal Rights with an Informal Solution
If you suspect that you are being treated differently at work because of your cancer history, consider an informal solution before leaping into a lawsuit. You want to stand up for your legal rights without casting yourself as a troublemaker.
If you face discrimination, consider the following suggestions:
- Use your employer's policies and procedures for resolving employment issues informally.
- If you need some kind of accommodation to help you work, such as flexible working hours to accommodate healthcare providers' appointments, suggest several alternatives to your employer.
- Educate employers and co-workers who might believe that people cannot survive cancer and remain productive workers.
- Ask a member of your healthcare team (healthcare provider or social worker) to write or call your employer to offer to mediate the conflict and suggest ways for your employer to accommodate you.
- Seek support from your co-workers.
If informal solutions fail, consider several steps to protect your right to file a lawsuit:
- Be aware of filing deadlines so you do not lose your option to file a complaint under state or federal law.
- To file a lawsuit, you must follow the procedures established by each law.
- If you file a complaint and later change your mind, you can drop the lawsuit at any time.
You have 180 days from the date of the action against you to file a complaint under the ADA with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If you work for the federal government, you have only 45 days to begin counseling with an equal employment opportunity counselor.
Under most state laws, you have 180 days to file a complaint with the state agency.
Where to File
ADA. If you believe you have been treated differently by an employer covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act because of your cancer history, you must file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) to enforce your rights. Link: EEOC
FMLA. To file a lawsuit under the Family and Medical Leave Act, you may choose between filing a lawsuit in court or filing a complaint with the Employment Standards Administration, Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor. Link: USDL
State laws. Most states have a state agency that enforces the state fair employment practices law. Some states permit you to file a lawsuit in state court to enforce your rights.
Although most employers treat cancer survivors fairly and legally, some employers - either through outdated personnel policies or an uninformed or misguided supervisor - pose unnecessary and sometimes illegal barriers to survivors' job opportunities. Survivors can best protect themselves from employment discrimination by learning how to speak up for their rights in the workplace.
Have you experienced discrimination in the workplace as a result of your cancer treatment? How did you handle it?
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