From an employment law standpoint, being “disabled” can mean much more than a physical limitation like chronic back pain or multiple sclerosis. A serious, potentially fatal illness that requires intensive treatment with many possible side effects can also affect your ability to work. But just like with a physical or mental disability, reasonable accommodations that allow you to do your job are required under the Americans With Disabilities Act and Washington State law.
Failure to provide those reasonable accommodations upon request or punishing an employee for asking are both forms of employment discrimination. Still, some employers refuse to accommodate workers after they are diagnosed with a major illness like cancer. Perhaps because they fear the effect on their health insurance plan of having a chronically ill employee on staff, they might fire or force a worker to quit simply for asking for reasonable support, such as flexible hours or working remotely.
Fired for asking to work from home after cancer diagnosis
A King County woman who was fired after being diagnosed with stage four breast cancer recently won a $3.3 million verdict in a lawsuit against her former employer. Ironically, the woman worked as a financial coordinator for a pair of doctors who owned several medical clinics across western Washington. But instead of being understanding or sympathetic about her condition, the doctors became hostile after learning about it. They threatened to fire her behind her back.
Her prescribed treatment was to take medication that reduced her immune system, and she developed shingles as a result. Worried about spreading the shingles to a pregnant co-worker, the woman asked her bosses if she could work from home, which would not seem to affect her ability to do her duties as financial coordinator. But the doctors fired her two days later.
Compensation after heavy financial burden
Sick with cancer and with no other means of financial support, the fired employee later sued for disability discrimination. Hopefully, the compensation awarded to her will help her pay off her medical bills and make up for the lost income she would have earned had her former employers respected the law.