The Unconsidered Aspects of Cancer in the Austin Workplace

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Several years ago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published information for employees and employers dealing with cancer in the workplace. Despite this publication, many Austin employers continue to have questions regarding the best ways to handle employees dealing with cancer. It is estimated that forty percent of working-age adults have had some form of cancer, so the issue is prevalent enough that all employers with more than fifteen employees should be well versed in dealing with cancer in the workplace.

Briefly, it should be noted that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers Texas employers, prohibits discrimination against employees with certain long-term or permanent disabilities. The EEOC enforces the ADA regulations, but not all cancer patients are disabled according to the ADA.   Cancer can become a disability when the disease, or the disease’s side effects, lead to substantial limitations of major life activities such as bathing, sleeping, or reproducing. Cancer may also be considered a disability when the patient’s employer perceives his cancer as significantly affecting his major life activities.  It is important to understand the conditions associated with cancer that qualify for protections under the ADA because medical breakthroughs allow for the treatment of many cancers without ever triggering ADA protections.

When an employee is also a cancer patient, many employers must also manage the effects of the   with the patient’s co-workers. Some businesses have difficulty balancing the patient’s reasonable  accommodation, the patient’s privacy, and co-worker complaints of unfairness. A real life example with one of our clients was one patient employee needed accommodations in the form of rest breaks and shorter work days. The patient’s employer had done an exceptional job of maintaining the privacy of the patient, but several of his co-workers were complaining that he was receiving special treatment. In order to correct this situation and prevent future situations, we provided training to the business’s employees, focusing on rules and policies dealing with Equal Employment Opportunities and the ADA. After the employees received this training they were better able to understand and tolerate situations that were previously perceived as unfair. Educating your employees on these regulations and policies may help alleviate tension between co-workers if you are in a similar situation.


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