Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Accomodating Employees with Cancer

The Americans with Dissabilities Act   requires private employers with  fifteen (15) employees or more employees as well as state and local government employers to provide adjustments or modifications to enable people with disabilities to enjoy, without discrimination  equal employment opportunities, unless doing so would be an undue hardship.

An employer must provide a reasonable accomodation tha is needed because the limitation caused by the cancer itself, the side effects of medication or treatment for the cancer, or both. For example, an employer my have to accomodat an employee who is unable to work while he or she is undergoing chemotherapy or who has depression as a result of cancer, the treatment for it, or both. An employer, however, has no obligation to monitor an employee's medical treatment  to ensure that he or she is receiving appropriate medical care (i.e. treatment).

Some employees with cancer may need one or more of the following accomodations:

  • leave for doctor's appointments and/or to seek medical care or recuperate from treatment.
  • periodic breaks or a private area to rest or to take medications.
  • adjustments to work schedule and break time.
  • permisson to work from home when possible.
  • modification of office / work area temperature.
  • permission to use work telephone to call doctors.
  • reallocation or redistribution of marginal tasks to another employee and / or
  • reassignment to another job.
Some employees with cancer may need accomodations other than the ones listed above. The employer, therfore, should discuss with the employee his or her particular limitations and whether there is anything the employer can to enable him or her to work. For example, an employer might explore the possibility of providing certain equipment, a temporary transfer to another department or changes in how work is performed.

There are "no magic" words that a person has to use when requesting a reasonable accomodation. A person simply has to tell the employer that he or she needs an adjustment or change at work because of his or her cancer. A request for reasonable accomodations also can come from a family member, friend, healthcare professional or other representative on the employee's behalf.

An employer may request reasonable documentation where a disability or the need for reasonable accomodations is not obvious. An employer, however, is entitled only to documentation sufficient to establish that the employee's cancer is a disability and that explains whe an accomondation is needed. A request for an employee's entire medical record, for example, would be innapropriate, as it likely would include information about conditions other than the employee's cancer.

An employer does not have to grant every request for a reasonable accomodation. It does not have to provide an accomodation that would result in "undue to hardship" to his business or workplace. Undue hardship means that providing the reasonable accomodation would result in significant difficulty or expense. However, if a requested accomodation is too difficult or expensive, an employer should determine whether there is another/alternative easier, less costly accomodation  that would meet the employee's needs.

An employer is not required to provide reasonable accommodations that an individual wants but, rather, may choose among reasonable accomodation options as long as the chosen accomodation is effective. In any case an employer may be required to provide more than one accomodation for the same employee with cancer. The duty to provide a reasonable accomodation is an ongoing one. For example:

  • an employee with cancer may require leave for surgery and subsecuent recovery but may be able to return to work on a part-time or modified schedule while receiving chemotherapy.

An employer must consider each request for a reasonable accomodation and determine whether it would be effective and whether providing it would pose an undue hardship. An employer never has to reallocate essential functions as a reasonable accomodation but can do so if he wishes or needs to for the effective performance of his business.

An employer may not automatically deny a request for leave from someone with cancer because the employee cannot specify an exact date of return. Granting leave to an employee who is unable to provide a fixed date of return may  be a reasonable accomodation under the ADA. Although many types of cancer can be successfully treated - and often cured - the treatment and severity of side effects often are unpredicatable and do not permit exact timetables or accurate calculations.

An employee requesting leave because of cancer, therefore, may be able to provide only an approximate date of return. In such situation, or in situations in which a return date must be postpone because of unforeseen medical developments, employees (or their representatives)  should stay in regular communication with their employers to inform them of their progress and discuss the need for continued leave beyond what  originally was granted.

The employer also has the right to require that the employee provide periodic updates on his or her condition and possible date of return. After receiving these updates, the employer may re-evaluate whether continued leave constitutes and undue hardship to his business.

For more information or guidance regarding workplace accomodations for cancer patients please visit the Cancer Legal Resource Center  or call

  • Toll Free #: (866) THE-CLRC or (866) 843-2572
  • TDD: (213) 736-8310 
  • Fax: (213) 736-1428
  • Email:

How to Contact the Telephone Assistance Line

Call 866-843-2572 (Monday-Friday, 9AM-5PM Pacific). If you reach their voicemail during business hours, they are assisting other callers. However, they now have an intake form available online. The intake form asks for information about the issue with which you would like assistance. Please consider filling out an intake form and email, fax, or mail it back to them, this will help them assist you in a timely manner.

Click here to complete the intake form online now!

Click here to download the intake form to mail or fax it!

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