Can I Be Fired for Having Cancer or a Terminal Illness?

Cancer is a condition which is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and offers employees certain protects against employer discrimination. We at the California Labor Law Employment Attorneys Group have helped many people whose rights have been violated by their employer. We receive questions on this topic every single day and are happy to help. Examples of such questions include:

  • Can I be fired for having cancer? How do I hire a lawyer to sue my employer for wrongful termination?
  • What are your rights as a cancer patient in the workplace?
  • Can I be fired for having breast cancer?
  • Can my boss fire me for having prostate cancer?
  • Can my employer fire me for having colon or rectal cancer?
  • Can I be fired for having kidney cancer?
  • Can I be fired for having leukemia?
  • Can I be fired for having a terminal illness?
  • What are an employee’s rights with respect to a terminal illness?
  • Can I be fired for having endometrial or ovarian cancer?
  • Can my boss terminate me for having lung cancer? Who is the best attorney to file a lawsuit against my boss?
  • What are the rights of a cancer (thyroid cancer, pancreatic cancer, lymphoma) patient in the workplace?
  • I was fired for having melanoma (skin cancer). Can I sue my employer? Is this wrongful termination? Who is the best lawyer for this case?

Cancer is an illness you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It can be a terminal illness if caught too late. It causes great suffering to which no one should be exposed and often makes people too sick to work. It is natural for cancer patients to wonder about their financial future, and in that their job security as medicine is anything but affordable in the United States.

Cancer is not one disease, rather a group of related diseases characterized by an aggressive and uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells caused by both internal and external factors. Such factors included inherited genetic mutations, immunization conditions, chemicals, radiation, and other such things.

If you have cancer or if you have a terminal illness and believe that you were terminated because of it, you may have the legal grounds to sue your employer for discrimination termination.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

A cancer patient’s rights at work can be analyzed by first looking at the ADA. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a civil rights law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees with a disability. The purpose of this law is that so people with disabilities get the same rights and opportunities that everyone else legally gets. It’s not the just workplace, it’s everywhere. From stores, libraries, and offices to public transportation vessels.

The word disability has a very broad meaning, which means that many conditions that could hinder an employee are protected under the ADA and require equal treatment.

If the employee has disclosed the fact that they have a disability to their employer, and that disability is covered by the ADA, that employer must make reasonable accommodations in order for the employee to continue their employment without any, or the least amount of, obstacles. For instance, if an employee has fallen ill and requires flexible hours to make to work on time or finish all their work, an employer must provide the right accommodations and make changes to their work schedule.

Can the ADA Help People With Cancer?

People that have been diagnosed with cancer can develop long-term disabilities which may make it difficult to move around or perform their employment duties. The ADA is a policy which exists to help protect employees and make it possible for them to do the essential parts of their job, to go back to work, or keep them at their job post while they undergo treatment for their cancer. Even when a patient has been diagnosed, they may not have a symptomatic disability, but may still be considered “disabled” under the ADA and are thus a protected individual.

But how do you know if your condition is protected under the ADA? The ADA may protect your rights if you have a physical or mental disability which substantially hinders one or more of your “major life activities;” if a record exists of you having this issue in the past; other people believe you have a disability when you, in fact, have no such disability.

An employer cannot terminate you simply because you ask for your rights under the ADA. That would be wrongful termination for which the employer could be sued. The ADA also protects you if one of your immediate family members has a condition that is protected by the ADA. So, for instance, an employer cannot discriminate against you just because it is your parent, spouse, or child has cancer.

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But just because you have cancer, does not mean that you are fully protected. If your company is downsizing, a disabled worker may not be protected if they are terminated from their job, even if they can do all of the essential job functions.

Essential Job Functions:

In order to be under the full protection of the ADA, you must be able to do the necessary job functions of a job, otherwise known as “essential job functions.” Essential job functions are those tasks which are required by the job itself. An employer cannot discriminate against you because you have a disability that prevents you from doing the unessential functions. You must be able to do these functions either on your own or with reasonable accommodation.

Reasonable Accommodation:

Can I Be Fired for Having Cancer or a Terminal IllnessWhen your cancer prevents you from doing certain aspects of your job, your employer may be required to provide reasonable accommodations in order to give the employee the opportunity to fulfill the essential job functions of a job. The purpose of these accommodations allow disabled people to have the same benefits and opportunities as those without disabilities: Providing or modifying equipment to help the disabled person use them, altering work schedules, making the office more mobile-friendly, and more are considered accommodations.

An employer is required to accommodate such an employee unless the employee has not alerted the employer or the employer can show that the accommodation would not be reasonable. This comes down to the specificities of the employer, but a reasonable accommodation is unreasonable if the employer can show that the accommodations are very difficult or too expensive to install.

How Does Cancer Lead to Discrimination?

Our Los Angeles lawyers have seen many actionable cases of cancer discrimination. Cancer affects people in different ways and to different degrees. Whether or not you can work depends on your financial resources, the toll cancer has had on your body, and, of course, the kind of work you do. Many people who have been diagnosed with cancer can continue their work while they undergo treatment and recovery. Others, must leave their jobs under job-protected leave and then return after they have conquered and beat the disease.

Unfortunately, people who work during their treatment are sometimes discriminated against – the discrimination can be subtle, or downright obvious. For instance, many people may assume that the employee with cancer may be less productive or perform below standards. Whether the employee is able to work during their treatment or comes back after treatment an employer cannot discriminate in the following ways:

  • Not receiving the promotion for which the employee was considered prior to their diagnosis;
  • Being demoted without a just cause;
  • Not being considered for newer/higher positions;
  • Not getting the reasonable accommodation or time off when you have medical appointments which cannot be missed.

In addition to the ADA, there exists another act which helps employees keep their jobs while they undergo their treatment for cancer, or any other kind of illness which requires medical assistance.

Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA):

The FMLA provides qualified people with 12 weeks of unpaid leave in order to take care of medical or familial reasons. The FMLA applies to employees who work for companies with 50 or more employees.

Filing a Charge Against Your Employer for Discrimination

If you believe that your rights under the ADA have been violated by your employer, you may have the right to file a lawsuit against them and collect the benefits to which you may be entitled. If the cancer has progressed and made you incapacitated since the job termination, a third party can file the suit for you, like a family member, social worker, or another representative.

In order to file a suit against your ex-employer, you must first file a charge with a government agency like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency which is in charge of making sure that employers follow the law. You have 180 days to file with the EEOC, or 300 days if your state’s employer government agency grants the extension.

State and federal government agencies are in a work-sharing agreement, which means that if you file a charge with one, the other agency gets a copy in order to avoid duplicate files. And so once you file the charge, you will receive a “right-to-sue” letter which then gives you the right to take your employer to court. Once you receive the right-to-sue letter, you have 90 days to file a court action. Because of this, it is recommended that you not request that letter until you are fully ready to proceed in court. You can contact our Los Angeles attorneys who will be able to provide you with more info about this. Although we are in Los Angeles, we can help people in all of California.

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Our law firm offers free consultations and a zero-fee guarantee. Your case review is free, and if we take your case, you will never have to pay us anything upfront. We will collect our fees if and when we get you money. If you believe that you have been discriminated against for having cancer, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

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