What is Cancer?

Cancer is a disorder characterized by uncontrolled division of cells and their ability to spread, either by growth into adjacent tissue, or by implantation into distant sites.

Many types of cancer affect different people. A definitive diagnosis usually requires the examination of tissue by a pathologist. This tissue will be acquired by a biopsy or through a surgery. Most cancers can be treated and some cured, depending on the type of cancer, the location, and the stage of severity. Once diagnosed, cancer is usually treated with a combination of radiology and chemotherapy. As research develops, treatments are becoming more specific for the different types of cancer pathology. Drugs that target specific cancers already exist for several cancers. If untreated, cancers may eventually cause illness or even death.

Ways in Which You Might be Discriminated Against Because of Cancer
  • Your employer does not allow you to miss work for medical appointments
  • Your employer does not accommodate your need to take a reasonable amount of time off of work, including emergency appointments and recovery time following surgery and/ or chemotherapy and radiation sessions
  • Your employer will not provide reasonable on-site accommodations for your disability
How the Law Protects You if You Have Cancer

To state a cause of action for disability discrimination, an employee must be disabled, regarded as disabled, or have a record of being disabled. The employee must then show that:

  • his or her disability results in physical limitations
  • that he or she can still perform the essential functions of the job (with or without reasonable accommodations)
  • and that the employer took some adverse action (such as not hiring, firing, or demoting the employee) on the basis of that disability

Under both the Americans with Disabilities Act and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, cancer can render an individual disabled, deserving of protection from discrimination. Accordingly, an employer may not take any adverse action against an employee because of the employee's cancer. The employer also has an obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with cancer so as to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. The law will protect an employee whose employer does not provide these necessary accommodations. For example, an individual with cancer might be rendered severely weak due to an onslaught of medical treatments. Accordingly, an employer must provide the employee with reasonable assistance and breaks so as to allow the employee to continue to work.

Cancer is also a medical condition, within the definition of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, deserving of protection from discrimination. FEHA defines a medical condition as any health impairment related to, or associated with, a diagnosis of cancer, for which a person has been rehabilitated or cured, based on competent medical evidence; or any genetic characteristic.

An employer may not take an adverse action (such as firing, refusing to hire, or failing to accommodate an employee's needs) on the basis of an employee's medical condition. Furthermore, an individual, who is rehabilitated from cancer but not cured, must forever undergo regular check-ups and must also promptly seek medical attention at the onset of physical symptoms which may be signs of a recurrence of cancer; there is an obvious need for accommodation of the individual's doctor appointments, some of which may constitute medical emergencies and may of necessity require absences during regular work hours. An employer has an obligation to accommodate the employee accordingly.

Further Information