The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act offer protection from discrimination on the job.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you from discrimination from your employer. It also states that you must be given “reasonable accommodations” to continue doing your job, if necessary. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from your job for a serious medical condition without losing your job.
In addition, your state may have laws to protect you from employment discrimination. For questions regarding your particular situation, speak with someone from the human resources (HR) department of your organization. If your workplace doesn’t have an HR department, consult a lawyer regarding your concerns or contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society.
It is not easy to face co-workers who may have stereotypes of people with cancer such as death or patients who are bald or sick 24/7. They may avoid any contact with you. Some may even think that cancer or chemotherapy is shed in form of sweat, urine, or stool. Those are the ones who avoid touching you, shaking your hand, or sharing the same bathroom.
Does that really happen? In fact, I had a patient whose employer asked her to use a separate bathroom.
There are so many myths about cancer — that it may be contagious or that you should not kiss or have sex with someone who receives chemotherapy because you will be exposed to that chemotherapy. The reason for these misconceptions is some people don’t know much about cancer.
On the other hand, I have heard so many examples of friends or co-workers showing unbelievable support — helping with cooking for the family, transportation, coming with the patient to the clinic, even making cookies for the nurses and doctors. These situations bring out the best and the worst in people. You will know quickly who your real friends are.
There are ways to cope with difficult situations. Some with outgoing personalities organized lunch meetings to talk about the cancer they have and what the plan is and clear up some of the stereotypes. Other use support groups to share their experiences. Wellness Communities are great resources for information and emotional support.
It is not enough that patients deal with their own cancer diagnosis, the side effects of chemotherapy, the change in the family and social dynamics, and the financial strain, but they also have to worry about potentially loosing their job and security.
Your diagnosis may meet the definition of a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the workforce. The law defines “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. Specific conditions and diseases are not defined, but cancer qualifies as a disability if the disease itself or the side effects of treatment substantially affect your ability to perform major life activities, such as caring for yourself, walking, interacting with others, or concentrating. Cancer survivors who experience long term after-effects of cancer or its treatment, such as severe fatigue, depression, or cognitive functioning problems, may also be considered as having a disability. However, cancer may not be considered a disability unless the effects are permanent or long term.
Please make sure that you exhaust all your options and ways to protect you and your family.