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Know Your Rights: Breast Cancer and the Workplace

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So, you've recently found out that you have breast cancer and, as if you don't already have a ton that's on your mind and plate, you've still got to muster up the energy (and sometimes even the motivation) to go to work every day and deal with the demands that are there. You don't want to be treated any differently than before in the sense of having people pity you or having your supervisor not trust you to continue to do your job well, but the reality is that things are different now (at least temporarily). So, it's a good idea to know what your rights are as a breast cancer patient while still operating within the workplace.

What Are Your Legal Rights?

According to the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), a breast cancer patient's situation is handled on a case-by-case basis; however, the ADA does protect people from losing their job due to the diagnosis. Another law that further supports the rights of a cancer patient is the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act). There is some "fine print" with it, though because under this law, you must have been employed by a company for at least 12 months and have worked over 1,250 hours prior to making the request. Also, if you work for a company with under 50 staff employees, they are not required to honor the FMLA. However, if you do qualify for FMLA, you are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off work. It doesn't have to be used up all at once, though, which is convenient for people who, for instance, may need a day off per week for treatment or therapy.

What Do You Have the Right to Request?

No matter where you are employed, you have the legal rights to receive certain accommodations as you're going through your breast cancer journey. According to the EEOC (the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), these compliances include: time off for doctor's appointments and recovery from treatments; tasks that can be temporarily given to another employee; an adjusted work schedule (if needed, even a work-from-home arrangement); additional breaks throughout the day (as physically needed) to rest or to even pick up health-related items like lymphedema products, and changes made in the work environment such as a change in temperature to make working easier for the patient. These are requests that, in general, the EEOC deems as more than fair and so if you feel like you rights are being dismissed or violated, you are encouraged to contact them at 800-669-4000 or EEOC.com.

How Should You Handle Your Workplace Environment?

As you are adjusting to living with breast cancer, for every person that you share the news of your diagnosis with, they will have to as well. That said, you are certainly well within your rights to forego sharing the news at all, but it's not advisable to take that route. While you may want to discern how much of the details are necessary, human resources and your reporting supervisor should at least be made aware of what's going on so that they can make accommodations that will not just be better for you, but for them as well. When it comes to telling staff members, use your better judgment. If you had friends at work that you shared things in confidence with before, then those are the people who are safe to tell now: consider raising money for a breast cancer donation or benefit. For all others, just share what will help you to do your job most efficiently during this time; what will help those around you to be, not just sensitive to your situation, but to work as a team to get the job, at your workplace, done.

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