The ADA and FEHA (Fair Employment and Housing Act) prohibit discrimination on the basis of an employee’s disability in all phases of employment process – from application, medical exams, hiring decisions, promotions, and of course terminations. Under ADA, disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. These activities include caring for oneself, walking, talking, breathing or working.
An employee may also qualify for disability protection under ADA if he is “regarded as” having an impairment. This protection is especially important for employees who have history of cancer but do not currently have an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Employers often incorrectly assume that an employee is unable to continue performing his job after being diagnosed with cancer even if that employee doesn’t (yet) have any limitations at that time. “Regarded as” element of the ADA can be used to provide protections to employees with cancer who do not have a current disability within ADA definition, but still face discrimination based on their diagnosis.
In addition, the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) expanded the list of major life activities to include sleeping, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and the operation of major bodily functions. Employees who undergo cancer treatment often have issues with these activities. For instance, typical side effect of chemotherapy are inability to concentrate and memory issues. If these symptoms substantially limit an employee’s ability to think or concentrate, then the employee may have a disability under ADA.
It’s important for both employers and employees to be aware of the above legal protections for workers with cancer in order to avoid mistakes that can either cost a job on one side or expensive lawsuits on the other side.