Terminating Employee With Cancer – Is It Legal?

One of the most daunting and frightening diagnoses that man can be faced with is cancer.

When it comes to an employee, this condition affects him, the employee’s family, friends and employment itself. This is a big topic – terminating an employee with cancer, employee’s rights, what’s legal/illegal, types of discrimination employees can experience, etc.

Use this article as a starting point if this describes your current situation.

What Law Says: Can You Be Fired?

This kind of discrimination happens when an employer treats his employee less favorably than other employees. There are many laws and regulations that allow cancer patients to take leave. These laws are:

  • The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) – ADA recognizes cancer as a disability and forbids discrimination because of actual, perceived or history of disability. It offers certain protection against employment discrimination. The purpose of this law is to ensure the same rights for people with disabilities
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  • The Family And Medical Leave Act (FMLA) – If an employee is diagnosed with cancer, he/she can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. An employee can maintain his health insurance benefits during the leave period and can return to the same or similar position at work.
  • The Federal Rehabilitation Act – This act applies to federal workers, but it said that employers cannot discriminate because of cancer.

Many federal laws, state laws and regulations say that employers cannot treat the cancer-patient or cancer survivor differently because of their illness. In fact, an employer must provide reasonable accommodation for an employee with cancer.

Can An Employee With Cancer Be Fired?

If you ask for the rights that ADA allows you, an employer cannot terminate you because of that. If that happens, that’s wrongful termination and an employee can sue his employer.

fired woman

Plus, ADA protects the employee whose family member has a condition that ADA protects.

But keep in mind if you have cancer, that doesn’t mean you are fully protected. If the company starts downsizing, a disabled worker can be terminated.

I Was Fired Because I Have Cancer: Can I Sue?

If you think that your rights under the ADA have been broken, you may have the right to file a lawsuit against your employer.


First, you must file a charge with the government agency and once you file the charge, you’ll receive the letter with right-to-sue and then you can take your employer to court. So, yes, you can sue your employer.

How Does Cancer Lead To Discrimination?

Unfortunately, cancer affects people in different ways and in different intensities. Even cancer survivors can experience illegal difficulties with job opportunities.

Some employers don’t want to hire cancer survivors, put them in lower positions or avoid giving them promotions or benefits.

team figures

Also, some employers give health insurance to all your co-workers, but not to an employee who has or has had cancer. This employer’s refusal can be considered discrimination under ADA.

How Can HR Help You?

Human resource (HR) professionals can be helpful for employees who struggle with this awful disease. They are experts in a variety of employment policies and benefits. HR can provide very important info about:

  • Flexible work schedule – Because an employee with cancer will need time to go to medical appointments and treatments, the usual full-time schedule won’t work for him. So with HR, he/she can review strategies to work from home or move to a part-time schedule.
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  • Taking a leave of absence – HR can explain various types of leave available to a sick employee. That includes paid time off, sick leave, intermittent family medical leave, etc.
  • Health insurance coverage – People with cancer will have questions about health insurance coverage for cancer treatment. Also, HR can connect them to health programs or doctors who specialize his/her type of cancer.
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  • Sharing the news with the manager or supervisor – Some employees will need help with communication with their managers or supervisors. HR can arrange meetings and help with effective communication.

Your Employment Rights As a Cancer Survivor

If an employee work during the treatment or comes back after treatment, he/she cannot be discriminated against in these ways:

  • If an employee does not receive a promotion for which he was considered before diagnose
  • Being demoted without a reason
  • If an employee isn’t considered for a higher position
  • Not getting a reasonable time off when the employee has medical appointments

Ways To Enforce Your Rights

So, if an employee suspects he is treated differently due to his condition, he should stand up for his rights nad consider the following steps:

  • Use your employer’s policies to settle employment issues informally
  • Suggest your employer work modification, such as flexible working hours, if needed
  • Teach your supervisors about your condition
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  • Ask your healthcare provider to call your employer and suggest ways for your accommodation
  • Seek support from your co-workers

How To Prevent Discrimination?

Federal laws and states are useful when discrimination occurs. But here are some methods you can use to prevent future discrimination in the next workplace.

Don’t freely give information that you have or have had cancer unless it starts to affect your abilities.

Don’t lie when applying for work. If your employer finds out about your lies, he/she can fire you because of dishonesty. If you lie about your condition, insurance companies can refuse to pay benefits.

employer and employee

Know your legal rights. Under the ADA, the employer isn’t allowed to ask you about your medical history or request medical records.

Apply for jobs that you are able to do. If you aren’t qualified for the job, the employer can fire you, regardless of your medical history.

Seek help from a job counselor. Learn how to answer some delicate questions, such as “Why did you miss a year of work?”. Learn how to stress your current abilities and qualifications.

Final Verdict

Most employers treat cancer employees fairly and legally. However, some employees face discrimination due to their condition. Fortunately, there are many laws and regulations that encourage each person to speak up for his right and get protected.

Melissa is a freelance writer with a Bachelor of Economy. She became one of the OfficeNeedle team members in 2020. Her expertise in business management lies in 6-year experience working in 3 companies which allowed her to improve her business skills. The knowledge she has received through her work, she presents in the educational articles helping many people who start or run a business. Her secret love is design so she writes also about office furniture and equipment.