Federal Laws Against Employer Discrimination

CURE, Summer 2008, Volume 7, Issue 2

This sidebar to the feature “To Tell or Not to Tell” lists the federal laws that protect employees from job discrimination.

Four federal laws help protect cancer patients and survivors against workplace discrimination:

1. Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA, passed in 1990, applies to companies with 15 or more employees and state and federal governments. Most cancers are considered a disability, and most federal courts find that cancer survivors who are qualified to continue in their jobs are covered by the ADA.

The ADA prohibits discrimination in most job-related activities including firing; providing unequal pay, working conditions or benefits; and not hiring an applicant because of disability-related reasons. It also requires reasonable accommodation, such as a change in work hours or duties to accommodate a person’s disability.

Complaints must be filed within 180 days of alleged discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. To learn how to file, contact the EEOC at (800) 669-4000 or www.eeoc.gov. For more information, go to www.ada.gov.

2. Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA, passed in 1993, provides job security to workers who must attend to serious medical needs for themselves or their dependents. The law allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year and requires employers to continue benefits, including health insurance, during that period. It applies to companies with 50 workers or more, and the employee must have worked at least 25 hours a week for one year to be covered.

A worker has two years to file a lawsuit or complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor. For more information, go to www.dol.gov/esa/whd/fmla.

3. Employee Retirement Income Security Act. ERISA prohibits employers from preventing employees from collecting benefits under an employee benefit plan. It protects employees and their dependents from being denied participation in an employee benefit plan because of a cancer history. The law is enforced by the Employee Benefits Security Administration of the Department of Labor. For more information on ERISA, go to the department’s website at www.dol.gov/ebsa/compliance_assistance.html.

4. Federal Rehabilitation Act. Under the Federal Rehabilitation Act, public employers and private employers that receive public funds are banned from discriminating because of a disability. Complaints must be filed with the Department of Labor within 30 days for federal employees, or 180 days for employees of a federal contractor.

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Also, all states except Alabama and Mississippi have laws that prohibit discrimination against workers in the private sector. Those two states have discrimination laws that cover only state employees. Other states like New Jersey have laws affecting all employers regardless of the number of employees. Many states also have laws similar to the FMLA.

More information on your state’s laws is available at your state’s human rights commission or division on civil rights. For a list, go to the website of the Job Accommodation Network at www.jan.wvu.edu/links/cra.html. The National Partnership for Women and Families website at www.nationalpartnership.org charts leave laws by state.