A cancer diagnosis will change a lot about someone’s life…but does it impact their career as well?
In many cases, cancer patients require a lot of time off of work to attend appointments. Aside from simply receiving treatment, many patients are unable to continue working as normal because of the side effects related to their treatment. Whether it’s the nausea, pain, or utter fatigue, it can be extremely difficult for patients to continue to work in the capacity in which they were prior to their diagnoses.
It is a frightening thought that a patient may not be able to carry out their required duties at work, especially knowing how expensive cancer treatment can be. Luckily, regulations are put in place to ensure people experiencing health issues are not forced to choose between their health or their financial security.
To protect patients, businesses of at least 50 employees are required by law to provide seriously ill employees with medical leave. This law, known as the Family and Medical Leave Act, states that employers must give employees who are seriously ill 12 weeks of medical leave during a 12-month period. As long as the employee has been at the position for at least 12 months in the past seven years and has maintained an average of 24 hours of work per week, they are likely eligible to take leave for medical reasons without any consequences to their position.
One of the major concerns that cancer-stricken employees have, however, is what type of repercussions they may face for using such leave. Many fear that as a result, they will be overlooked for a promotion, demoted without reason, not given an otherwise deserved pay raise, or be left out of important decisions. Each of these scenarios, along with a long list of other similar situations, is considered discrimination and it is illegal. To protect against workplace discrimination, the US has several regulations in place. In addition to the Family and Medical Leave Act, patients are also protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). These acts require that employers make reasonable accommodations, such as flexible time off for appointments, while protecting the employee’s privacy in regard to medical records.
To assist cancer patients in navigating their employment rights, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has developed several resources specific to the rights of cancer patients in the workplace. These resources review a number of scenarios to help employees determine what is legal and what is illegal. If the behavior is illegal, it is important to thoroughly document the situation and speak to a human resources officer if able. If it is not possible to discuss the situation with a human resources representative, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides detailed instructions on how to file a charge of employment discrimination in a private business, local or state government office, or in a federal office.
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