Cancer Patient Rights in the Workplace
According to research done by the American Cancer Society in 2022, there are approximately 111,180 cancer survivors living in the state of West Virginia. These individuals, along with those still attempting to address their cancer, have already overcome great odds and may now be tasked with trying to resume “normal” life. For many of them, this means reentering the workforce.
There are workplace rights for cancer patients, but most people are unfamiliar with these rights. Or, if they do know about the rights of cancer patients in the workplace, they may not be sure about how to enforce them and ensure they’re protected.
If you’re concerned about cancer discrimination in the workplace or would like cancer patient workplace support, call us at Atkinson & Polak, PLLC. Our attorneys can help clients around the Charleston, West Virginia area and throughout the state, including Morgantown, Huntington, Beckley, Martinsburg, and Parkersburg.
Understanding Cancer Patient Rights
There are several laws, both at the federal and state level, that protect cancer patient rights in the workplace:
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Amendments Act: The original Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 and is one of the largest pieces of federal legislation to protect cancer survivors from discrimination in the workplace and requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for them. In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was passed that contains an expanded definition of what a "disability" is under the ADA which includes more specific wording to include cancer patients and survivors. Essentially, the ADA covers anyone whose disability limits a “major life activity” which now includes bodily functions that would be affected by cancer.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): FMLA for cancer patients allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off work without losing their job or benefits to address an illness.
West Virginia Human Rights Act: At the state level, this act helps protect West Virginia cancer patient rights by prohibiting discrimination in the workplace for most employers with over 12 employees.
Accommodations for Cancer Patients at Work
Coping with cancer in the workplace can be difficult, especially since it will likely be on you to request certain accommodations. Depending on the nature of your work, these accommodations will look different but may include:
Doing some work from home.
Rearranging your workspace.
Requesting special furniture or equipment.
Transferring to another role.
Requesting more frequent breaks.
Adjusting your work schedule.
Disclosing Cancer Diagnosis in the Workplace
Disclosure is voluntary; however, you may not be able to access workplace resources for cancer patients if you don’t disclose. Those who don’t feel they’ll need any accommodations may choose not to disclose. If you do disclose your status as a cancer patient, your employer is allowed to ask follow-up questions if they have a reasonable belief that accommodations will be needed.
Handling Workplace Discrimination
Thankfully, there are numerous cancer patient success stories at work. On the other hand, there are also instances of discrimination. Knowing how to address these instances is essential. If you feel this has happened to you or that the ADA rights for cancer patients were not upheld, you can file a claim against your employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This must be done within 180 days of the instance of discrimination. Federal employees should file a complaint with their agency's EEO Office. An experienced attorney can be immensely helpful in this process.
Financial Support for Cancer Patients in the Workplace
It can be hard to estimate the costs of dealing with cancer. Financial help is available for many people, both from state and federal organizations. However, none of this is guaranteed. You should contact each establishment separately or speak to your healthcare provider for more options.
The West Virginia Oncology Society (WVOS) is one organization at the state level that may be able to provide assistance. You may also have access to resources through the Patient Advocate Foundation or the Cancer Family Relief Fund, both of which provide funds for cancer patients and their families across the country.
Balancing Work and Cancer Treatment
The laws in place for West Virginia workplace cancer support can be helpful for finding a balance between your work life and completing your cancer treatment. However, even some employers may not be aware of these laws, and you may need to advocate for your needs. In some cases, it can be helpful to contact an attorney who’s well-versed in cancer patient legal protections and can help you find a comfortable balance that allows you to earn an income and address your health needs.
How a Compassionate Attorney Can Help You
If you’re worried about your status as an employee as it relates to cancer patient job protection or if you’d like to learn more about cancer patient work-related benefits, reach out to our team at Atkinson & Polak, PLLC in Charleston, West Virginia.