A report on KYW News Radio 1060 today made my ears perk up when I heard it. It was about cancer related complaints having doubled with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) in the last decade.
Here is the text of what I heard on the radio in the car:
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has seen an increase in the number of cancer-related complaints over the past few years.
The number of cancer patients filing claims with the EEOC has more than doubled since 2003…..Part of the spike may have resulted from cancer being specifically included as a disability under Americans with Disabilities Act, but it could also be heightened awareness of rights among employees.
“If you’re being asked, ‘Do you have cancer,’ ‘how many days of work have you missed,’ they could be trying to screen you out,” says Shannon Powers, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
She says the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits employers from firing or not hiring someone because they have a disability.
“The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act defines disability as anything that significantly limits one’s normal life activities, and it can very well include cancer,” she says. “You do have to be able to perform the job, but your qualifications are really the only important thing.”
Those who have followed my breast cancer blog from the beginning know that I had issues with my previous employer.
We’ll start with because they were a small company they did not have to offer health benefits to employees even though the owner of the firm had corporate health benefits for himself. Employees could have been offered access to benefits and paid their own way under his plan, but that never happened while I was there. There was also no access to a retirement plan.
There was no set vacation or sick day schedule. Now that can work to your advantage if you need a couple of extra vacation days, but if you were having a major surgery it could be and was extraordinarily nerve-wracking. I pushed myself post surgery much sooner than I should have because I was afraid NOT to work. That is a fear no one should live with that has a legitimate illness or health condition that they need treated. I never asked my former employer for a hand out, but a little more consideration at the time would have been nice.
The audio version of the report also talked about the EEOC or Human Relations people saying cancer patients had rights under FMLA or the Family Leave and Medical Act. What the report neglected to inform listeners is that small companies are EXEMPT from FMLA. If your employer is under 50 employees, they don’t have to pay attention to this.
The alternative is to sue under Americans With Disabilities Act. And hell yes, I thought about it and sought legal counsel. I was a triple threat: a woman over 45 with breast cancer. But that whole suing an employer is a long drawn out legal process that is very stressful ( I know people who have sued under this act and won). So I weighed my options. I had the choice to have a protracted legal battle, see if I could find something within the company that reduced my stress, or leave.
There was nothing else available for me to do with my former employer (again – it is a small company so there weren’t tons of jobs), so as you all know, I made the difficult decision to leave in February 2012 as in order to reduce stress post breast cancer. It wasn’t so secret and was even mentioned in an article about my former company somewhere around then in the Wall Street Journal.
I am a fighter, but for me personally there was not enough to be gained if I filed litigation under the Americans With Disabilities Act as what they call in the legal industry “a triple threat”. Could I have succeeded with a claim? Quite possibly, but the trade offs weren’t worth it to me. After all, I was trying to reduce stress to be more healthy as a now cancer survivor.
Amusingly enough, a blogger who recently went of in a tizzy on me (I didn’t like her blog) had as her big “a-ha” moment was “you haven’t worked in a year”. Ok wow, no big secret I took some time off and changed the way I live…I had breast cancer.
Sheesh, it alters you. And people have absolutely NO idea how it drains you to keep up a close to normal schedule post-cancer surgery while also undergoing treatment.
But the jaded skeptic in me thinks the laws are indeed still designed to be discriminatory against cancer patients, especially women. After all, a lot of cancer patients are dealing with too much to fight everything at once.
Anyway, I am glad this news report is out there. I wish they would go further and talk about all the people who had issues but did not report it to anyone and why they chose not to report. I think that would be interesting.