While the decision to disclose a cancer diagnosis is a personal one, employees need to inform their employer of their status to be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA). The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace related to a disability or a perceived disability, and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for qualified employees with a disability.  Organizations with 15 or more employees must adhere to ADA guidelines. You and your patients can learn more about this act by visiting www.ada.gov.

In order to be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, patients must meet the ADA’s definition of a disabled person, be able to perform the job’s essential functions, and not pose a risk to colleagues’ health and safety. Some common workplace accommodations that your patients may wish to explore include modifying their personal workspace to maximize comfort and productivity, or a temporary change in job responsibilities. Encourage patients to work with their supervisor to create a schedule that accommodates their treatment schedule and energy level.


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Many employers who adhere to ADA guidelines create a flexible work schedule to allow for doctor’s appointments and treatment schedule. Your patients may propose options such as reducing the number of hours they work, telecommuting full-time or part-time, or job sharing. No matter what schedule they agree on with their employer, urge patients to schedule periodic breaks to keep their energy up.

In addition, each state has its own Fair Employment Law that can offer even more protection than ADA. Patients can visit www.eeoc.gov to get more information on their state’s Fair Employment Practices Agency.

Another key piece of legislation to inform your patients about is The Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides employees who are affected with a serious illness up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave and continued benefits for this period of time. FMLA benefits are available to both patients and caregivers. More information about this act is available at www.dol.gov.

Perhaps the most important message to impart to your patients is that there are many available resources that can help people coping with cancer in the workplace. CancerCare (www.cancercare.org; 800-813-HOPE [4673]) provides free support services for anyone affected by cancer, including counseling, support groups, and financial assistance. Leading experts in oncology provide up-to-date information on a variety of topics during CancerCare‘s free Connect Education Workshops, including topics on coping with cancer while continuing to work and after treatment ends. Cancer and Careers (www.cancerandcareers.org) is another excellent resource for information about coping with cancer in the workplace.

You can also refer patients to the Job Accommodation Network (askjan.org), a free service that answers questions about job accommodations, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and related legislation that protects the rights of people coping with cancer in the workplace. Patients who feel they have received unfair treatment in the workplace may wish to contact The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov; 800-669-4000), a government agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 years or older), disability or genetic information.