What is Workplace Cancer Discrimination – and What Are My Rights in California?

A cancer diagnosis can utterly upend your life. That’s true even when the odds are fairly good. What can be nearly as jarring is the fact that you might face cancer discrimination at your work. cancer discrimination lawyer

For most people, cancer isn’t something they planned on – or planned for. As such, many aren’t ready to pause or forego their career – and they may not need to. But most cancer patients are unlikely to make it all the way through treatment without requiring some type of workplace accommodations.

Sometimes, when employees with cancer ask for the accommodations or leave to which they are entitled under law, they are met with employer responses that can include:

  • Overlooked for new positions.
  • Denial of an earned promotion.
  • Denying requests for flexibility with time off for medical appointments.
  • Exclusions in training and decision-making opportunities once they’ve scheduled sick leave to cover medical appointments.
  • Demotion with no clear explanation.

As our Los Angeles cancer discrimination lawyers can explain, such acts may be unlawful under state and federal employment disability laws. It is the responsibility of the employer to understand their obligations under these statutes. Inevitably, some will fail – and it’s the cancer patient employees who pay the price.

Some of these legal protections include:

  • Americans With Disabilities Act. Since 1990, the ADA has protected workers against unfair workplace treatment because of current, past, or perceived disability. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities – which for cancer patients often means flexibility with time off, work-from-home options, and physical accommodations like desks that can adjust for wheelchair access. Employers must provide these reasonable accommodations unless they can prove undue hardship by doing so.
  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This is a federal statute that offers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical and family reasons. You would be eligible if you’re the one receiving cancer treatment OR an immediate loved one is (parent, spouse, child, etc.). FMAL is available to employees at any company with 50+ workers. Similarly, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) provides up to 8 weeks of paid family/medical leave, reimbursing you for between 60 and 70 percent of your normal pay. (The CFRA provides paid leave, but not job protection. Citizenship/immigration status does not impact this right.)
  • Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Since 2008, this statute protects one’s genetic information (such as cancer-related genetic mutations) from being used against them by either insurers or employers with respect to either healthcare coverage or job/work duties.

In a recent EEOC-filed case out of Cleveland, Ohio, a worker at a healthcare clinic was successfully sued by an employee who was forced to resign after the company turned down a request for accommodation to continue working from home following the COVID-19 pandemic. The company had allowed a period of remote work, but was requiring everyone to return. However, the employee was undergoing radiation treatments for cancer, and her immune system was significantly compromised. The company denied her request.

Then, upon her return to the office, she was routinely left out of staff emails that contained details of personnel COVID exposures (despite specific requests to be made aware). She ultimately resigned due to health concerns.

Her EEOC employment lawyer pointed out that when considering an employee’s request for accommodations, they must be well-informed and engage with workers in a meaningful, substantive way before issuing blanket decisions or denials. The pandemic proved that many different types of jobs could be carried out remotely with success. As such, it may well be a perfectly reasonable accommodation for many employers.

If you are an employee with cancer and have concerns about unfair treatment by a current, former, or prospective employer, we can help.

Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Newport Beach, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.

Additional Resources:

Cancer in the Workplace and the ADA, EEOC

More Blog Entries:

Mocking of Disabled Workers Can Be Evidence in California Employment Disability Discrimination Claim, March 30, 2023, Los Angeles Cancer Discrimination Lawyer Blog



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