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How cancer patients are protected in the workplace

A cancer diagnosis may affect your work life. The decisions you make about working after a cancer diagnosis depend on your finances, the demands of your recovery and the work you do. You may choose to work during your treatment or leave your job until your treatment is done.

Unfortunately, if you work during or after cancer treatment, you may be the victim of workplace discrimination. Discrimination against employees with cancer is illegal. Read below to learn about the protections and rights you have as a cancer patient in the workplace.

Getting a job

According to the American Cancer Society, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against cancer patients during the job application and hiring processes. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits employers from asking about cancer diagnoses or treatments. Unlawful questions include:

  • Whether an applicant has or had cancer
  • Whether an applicant has ever taken sick leave for surgery or treatment
  • Whether an applicant is taking medication, undergoing radiation, receiving chemotherapy or has ever done these in the past

However, an employer may ask reasonable questions about job performance or qualifications, including whether an applicant can lift fifty pounds or work rotating shifts. 

Keeping your job

If you believe you will need accommodations to perform essential job duties, you may want to tell your employer about your cancer diagnosis and any limitations you experience, although the law does not require you to do this. Potential accommodations you may want to request include:

  • The ability to leave for doctor appointments
  • Provision of a private place to take medications
  • Permission to use a telephone to call health care providers
  • Adjustments to the work schedule

The ADA requires your employer to make reasonable accommodations. If your employer does not reasonably accommodate you, or mistreats or retaliates against you for requesting accommodations, you may be able to file an employment discrimination claim.

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