A woman dressed in a hard hat speaks to her boss about requesting reasonable accommodations at work.

Work and Cancer: How to Get Help Through “Reasonable Accommodations”

Today, we celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.

The ADA is a federal law that protects eligible individuals with disabilities against discrimination. Title I of the ADA provides protections in the workplace for individuals with disabilities. The ADA also provides some employees with the additional benefit of access to reasonable accommodations to continue performing their job duties.

What are reasonable accommodations?

Individuals diagnosed with cancer may qualify for reasonable accommodations at work.

“An accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.”

Reasonable accommodations can be changes in workspace, work schedules, or policies, that help you continue to do your job, take time off, or return to work. Remember, that when thinking about accommodations that might work for you, they have to still be “reasonable.” And, one accommodation might not address all of the challenges you are facing, so you can request more than one accommodation.

An example

Ann has decided to work through her cancer treatment, as a cashier at a supermarket. She is having trouble with fatigue and is limited in how long she can stand at a time. She also has to constantly drink water because of the effect of her treatment, and as a result, she has to use the restroom often. The supermarket does not allow employees to have beverages at the checkout stand and she is only allowed breaks every 4 hours.

What are some reasonable accommodations that Ann could use at work? Ann could ask to have her work station moved closer to the restroom to limit the length of disruptions, to have a water bottle at her work station and more breaks, and she could request a chair or stool at her station.

How do I ask for reasonable accommodations?

When it comes to requesting reasonable accommodations, you may very well walk into the conversation with your supervisor or human resources as the expert. So, being prepared is key! Use this checklist to ensure you have everything you need and have built a strong case for support. This checklist can be printed – and health care professionals can order free bulk copies.

  • Identify what is challenging at work.
    • Space? Policy? Schedule? Workload? Other things?
  • Gather information.
    • Your job responsibilities and past job performance
    • Your treatment information (e.g., other possible side effects, schedule, etc.)
    • Workplace policies (e.g., telecommuting, flex time, job sharing, etc.)
    • Workplace culture (e.g., other employee examples, past experiences, etc.)
    • Established process to ask for an accommodation?
  • Understand your rights.
    • Federal fair employment law – Americans with Disabilities Act
    • State fair employment law
    • Understand how these and other laws and benefits can work together.
    • Come up with a plan.
      • Think creatively about what could help address the challenges you are facing at work
        • Everything is on the table (unless it is “unreasonable” or is an “undue hardship” on your employer).
        • Come up with a list of options that might help. They might not pick your first choice, but what they pick has to be effective. Get ideas from the Job Accommodation Network.
        • You can also get more than one accommodation.
      • Decide who to first approach to ask for your accommodation (e.g., supervisor, human resources representative, etc.)
      • Identify the best time AND best way to ask for your accommodation (e.g., in-person, in writing, does your employer have an established process to ask for an accommodation, etc.)
    • Make sure everyone is on the same page.
      • Get it in writing. After you request an accommodation it is important to document it. Your employer may have a process for this. It could be as simple as sending an email thanking your employer for having the conversation and agreeing to a specific accommodation(s). This can help avoid miscommunication and issues down the road.
      • Make your disclosure preferences known (e.g., to supervisors, co-workers, etc.)
        • If you chose to go to HR and don’t want your supervisor to know about your medical condition, HR can only share that you have been granted a specific accommodation.
      • Understand the interactive process.
      • Your needs may change over time. You can ask for new accommodations.

Other Free Resources On the ADA, Reasonable Accommodations, and More

For all of our free materials and resources on navigating work and cancer, visit TriageCancer.org/Employment.

About Triage Cancer

Triage Cancer is a national, nonprofit providing free education to people diagnosed with cancer, caregivers, and health care professionals on cancer-related legal and practical issues. Through eventsmaterials, and resources, Triage Cancer is dedicated to helping people move beyond diagnosis.

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