May 8, 2017

ADA and cancer in the workplace

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including employees or candidates with cancer. An ADA case recently settled for $380,000 underscores the importance of preventing disability discrimination and addressing misconceptions about employees’ ability to be productive during and after cancer treatment.

In April, a Chicago-based manufacturing company, agreed to pay $380,000 to resolve allegations it fired a regional manager a year after he was diagnosed with cancer, according to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC enforces the ADA.

The regional manager was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. He continued to perform his job successfully, even while undergoing treatment. However, the EEOC said, supervisors repeatedly asked him invasive questions about his illness and questioned his ability to perform his job. Subsequently, he was fired in 2011.

In arguing that firing the manager violated the ADA, EEOC Miami District Office Regional Attorney Robert Weisberg said, “The ADA was intended to eradicate the mistreatment of employees with disabilities based on misconceptions about their ability to perform their jobs.”

Training HR managers
In addition to paying the manager $380,000, the settlement requires the company to create a disability discrimination policy for its US-based employees. The company must also train all HR managers in the US on 1) its new policy, 2) what the ADA prohibits, and 3) the rights and responsibilities of managers and employees under the ADA. In turn, the HR managers will train all US-based managers on these areas.

The company must also address managers’ questions about the new policy and review accommodation-request scenarios with managers. They must also communicate the settlement to employees by posting and distributing notices through email, on the company’s website and at their locations in the US.

Accommodating employees with cancer
For employees with cancer who request workplace adjustments or modifications, the ADA and many state laws require employers to offer “reasonable accommodations” to workers during or after cancer treatment, unless doing so would be a difficult or costly hardship.

On its website, the EEOC provides Q&As about cancer in the workplace and the ADA, along with examples of reasonable accommodations employees with cancer may need. Examples include:

  • Leaving for doctor’s appointments
  • Taking periodic breaks or going to a private area to rest or take medication
  • Modifying the work schedule
  • Working at home
  • Reallocating or redistributing tasks to another employee
  • Reassigning the employee to a vacant position

Traliant Insight
Falling back on misconceptions about the abilities of workers with cancer can lead to unfair and discriminatory treatment and costly damages. Employers should take special care to ensure their anti-discrimination policies and training cover disability discrimination, including employees and job candidates who have or had cancer.