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Is Cancer Considered A Disability Under The ADA?

A cancer diagnosis can be frightening enough itself, add to it the changes that are in store as you begin or continue to battle the disease and the effect that cancer may have on your work life may not seem quite so important. But, the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) likely extend to an employee diagnosed with cancer.

Under the ADA, a disabled individual is entitled to reasonable accommodations necessary to completing essential job functions. For an individual battling cancer, reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Flexible scheduling, reduced work hours or a change in the time of day a shift is worked
  • Telecommuting or working from home
  • A private space at work for confidential physician-patient communications
  • An adjustment of duties or reassignment of non-essential job functions
  • Rest periods during the work day

A protected disability may arise from having cancer as well, such as anxiety or depression.

The ADA outlines a three-prong test to determine whether an impairment or disease such as cancer qualifies as a disability for which your employer must offer reasonable accommodations:

  • Current disability: Are your major life activities substantially limited by cancer?
  • A record of past disability: Were your major life activities substantially limited by cancer in the past?
  • Regarded as disabled: Has your employer treated you differently because of a cancer diagnosis even if that diagnosis was minor or did not affect your work?

Your employer might offer additional protections as well as income protection in the form of short and long term disability payments for extended periods away from work. But, if you are terminated or retaliated against because you were diagnosed with and are fighting cancer, you may have legal protections that require your employer to accommodate you during this time.

Source:, “When Is Cancer a Workplace Disability? What Employers Should Know,” May 23, 2012

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