Oftentimes individuals with mental or physical disabilities want to work despite their limitations. Federal laws seek to empower those who wish to work and prevent employers from discriminating against individuals with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) provides even greater levels of protection from discrimination.
Federal and California laws go further than simply preventing discrimination; they also require employers to make certain accommodations to allow individuals with disabilities to work.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the updated ADA Amendments Act passed in 2008, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. In many cases, this includes employees facing serious illnesses such as cancer.
When is cancer a disability under the ADA amendments act?
The ADA Amendments Act emphasizes that employers should define the term disability broadly, in the interest of providing coverage to the maximum extent possible under the law. Before the enactment of the ADA Amendments Act, a series of Supreme Court decisions and EEOC regulations had interpreted the ADA in a narrow manner — the ADA Amendments Act makes it clear that this is not the intention of lawmakers.
As with the ADA before it, cancer is a disability when the disease substantially limits one or more major life activities.
Additionally, cancer is a disability under the ADA if an employer treats an employee as if it substantially limits major life activities, regardless of whether it actually does.
However, the ADA Amendments Act expands the definition of major life activities to include both day-to-day activities (like walking) and major bodily functions (like normal cell growth). Additionally, the Amendments Act clarifies that impairments that are episodic or in remission are considered disabilities, if they substantially limit one or more major life activities when active.
It is important to note that California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act is more comprehensive than even the amended ADA. Notably, under California’s FEHA, impairments need only “limit” one or more major life activities.
If an employee is regarded as disabled, even if he or she is not disabled within the meaning of the law, the employee is afforded the protections of the anti-discrimination statutes. Moreover, under the FEHA, employees with diagnosed cancer, or regarded as having diagnosed cancer as a medical condition (even if not actually diagnosed as such), are protected from discrimination.
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