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Kidney Cancer and Your Rights at Work
In most cases, your job can be protected with proper planning and good communication.
By Chris Iliades, MD
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
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Of the more than one million Americans living with cancer, including kidney cancer, 40 percent are working-age adults. Most people eventually return to work after being diagnosed with cancer, although some cancer patients experience discrimination. Fortunately, there are federal laws that can protect your rights as an employee.
Studies indicate that one in four cancer survivors report some form of discrimination at work. Cancer survivors may be demoted, lose benefits, and even their job. It may then be difficult to find another job. The best way to protect your job if you have kidney cancer is to know your rights.
Kidney Cancer: Laws to Protect Your Rights
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you if kidney cancer limits any of your major life activities. The pain, depression, and fatigue that may go along with kidney cancer and the the side effects of treatment are all covered if they are severe enough to be considered a disability. Here are some things you need to know about your rights under the ADA:
- The ADA only applies to companies that have at least 15 employees.
- If you are applying for a job, your employer cannot ask you if you have kidney cancer, but can ask you about your ability to perform the job.
- If you’re already employed, your employer can ask you about your health, but can't take your job away or treat you differently because you have kidney cancer.
- Kidney cancer and its treatment, especially if you are recovering from surgery, can make you tire easily. You can request a change in your schedule or a transfer to a different position in the company. You may also be able to work part-time or from home. Your employer is required to accommodate you as long as the change is not disruptive for the company and does not interfere with a crucial function of your job.
- Your employer may ask you to get documentation of your kidney cancer-related disability from your doctor. Your employer cannot ask you to take any medical exams unless everyone else at work is asked to do the same.
- If you tell your employer about your kidney cancer, the information should be kept confidential. Your employer cannot tell other employees, but may tell your other supervisors or first aid providers at work.
- If you need to take extended time off for the surgery and recovery thereafter, the ADA protects your job.
Another government law you should know about is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It requires employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a serious health condition during any year of your employment. To qualify, you must be employed for one year, and the company has to have at least 50 employees.
Kidney Cancer: Telling Your Employer
It may be uncomfortable for you to talk about your kidney cancer, but it is the best way to protect yourself, and your job. Educate yourself on your rights before telling your employer of your health status.
A small company where the employees are well known may have a different attitude than a larger, less personal one. Start with your human resources department to find out about company policies. You might want to talk to someone you work with who has had a health problem to see how the company responded.
Telling your co-workers may also be helpful. They may be more accepting of the changes you are making if they know what you are going through. But remember, although your boss is required to keep your condition confidential, co-workers are not.
Report any acts of discrimination to the U.S. Equal Opportunities Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the violation. The EEOC will investigate, and if there has been a violation, it will try to settle the issue with your employer. If the EEOC and your employer can't reach a reasonable agreement, the agency can file a lawsuit or inform you that you have the right to sue your employer for discrimination.
Defend your job by knowing your rights. In most cases, your job can be protected with proper planning and good communication between you and your employer.
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