There is nothing better than being the boss of your own life and your own destiny... and I've always been one of those idealists who truly believed that if I wanted to be an astronaut or President or whatever, I could. All I needed to do is just work hard and it could happen. That's what this country is about right? Opportunity for everyone!
Well, this contract has a little bit of fine print to it. It doesn't mention that if you have any sort of chronic illness, then MAYBE that future as an astronaut or the President might work out as planned. In fact, depending on where you work, if you have a chronic illness, such as cancer, you may feel that your employment is in jeopardy - which only adds to the stress of the diagnosis and treatment a patient is facing.
Here is the good news... You ARE the boss. You have the power to be your own advocate if your are informed of the laws that are in place to protect you. Now, let's face it... when you are facing chemo and radiation treatments you may feel like it's a big enough challenge to get out of bed and make a ham sandwich, but this is where it is so important to gather your troops. You know that loud-mouth best friend of yours? It might just turn out that she's just the right person to keep nagging the doctor to fill out the forms required for Family Medical Leave or your Company's Leave Donation Program (if you are so lucky to have one). Or what about your sister who's a part time office manager and is the queen of organization? You need these people! Accept their help! While paperwork is surely the last thing on your mind, it might just be the thing that keeps a paycheck going, keeps your job secure for your return (because you are going to beat this thing!) and keeps your health insurance in place. Find a trusted resource. Make that person your advocate... and make sure you choose the right person. (Side note: Spouses might not be the right person. They are often just as emotionally drained as you are. It may be tough to find another advocate, but it also may be the right choice for you).
OK, so now, to the nitty gritty. What are your legal rights? What are your protections? Cancer in many cases is going to fall under the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA applies to businesses that have 15 or more employees. It should be noted that while the ADA is going to outline the minimum requirements a business has to follow, many business go well above and beyond these requirements and work to ensure their employees with cancer can take advantage of leave donations from other employees and other such benefits.
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "people who currently have cancer, or have cancer that is in remission, should easily be found to have a disability ... because they are substantially limited in the major life activity of normal cell growth or would be so limited if cancer currently in remission was to recur. Similarly, individuals with a history of cancer will be covered... because they will have a record of an impairment that substantially limited a major life activity in the past..." Finally, an individual is protected under the ADA if an employer takes a prohibited action (for example, refuses to hire or terminates the individual) because of cancer or because the employer believes the individual has cancer. (http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/cancer.cfm)
Before a Job Offer is Made
It is important to understand that before a job offer is made:
1. An employer may not ask a prospective employee whether he has or has had cancer
2. A prospective employee is NOT required to disclose any history of cancer
3. An employer MAY ask questions regarding accomodations required if the employee has volunteered information regarding past or current cancer diagnosis, however they may not ask questions about the cancer, the treatment or the prognosis.
After an Offer of Employment is Made
After an offer of employment is made, an employer may ask medical questions, such as requiring a pre-employment physical, so long as this requirement is applied uniformly across applicants. If an applicant is discovered to have cancer during this time, the employer may ask additional questions such as "Can the employee perform the job safely? Are there accomodations required?" However, they may not rescind the offer of employment solely because of a diagnosis of cancer. The discriminating factor would be whether or not the employee is able to safely perform the job, with or without accomodation.
When a current employee has a cancer diagnosis and receives treatment there are many things to consider. Employees can request reasonable accomodations (changes in work schedule, reassignment to positions with less physically straining duties, a change to the office work temperature, permission to use telework). While an employer does not need to grant all requests for accomodation, an employee should advocate for themselves and ask why a request is not granted, if that is the case. Other employees should understand the ADA so that there is no misunderstandings regarding "special treatment" of the employee requesting accomodation. The ADA is a federal law to protect employees who are in need of such protection. If you require accomodation, ask for it without guilt.
Harassment and Retaliation
If you believe that you have been the subject of harassment or retaliation as a result of a request for accomodation, go to the EEOC website for instructions on how to file a complaint: www.eeoc.gov/employees/howtofile.cfm.
Remember, it's important to use your voice. Some days there's just no fight left, but advocating for yourself in the workplace is important. There are resources available, such as the EEOC (www.eeoc.gov) or your local Human Resources representative. And don't forget, The Butterfly Club has lots of ladies who have "been there, done that"... join us on our Facebook page and ask questions if you are ever looking for advice or just an ear to listen.
The information presented has been graciously provided by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Please contact the EEOC at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.