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What can employers do to help cancer survivor employees?

Doing business in Minnesota can be complicated. Even if you are a small operation you can face significant legal compliance issues related to local, state and federal laws. Understanding your rights and responsibilities can be a challenge, as we observed in a post last June.

That entry had to do with the potential threat some businesses might face if their facilities are intended to be used by the general public and they don't meet the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Something as apparently mundane as restriping the parking lot can spark litigation if it fails to take the ADA into account.

But the ADA has implications for businesses related to conditions that might trigger employee disputes. Specifically, there may be steps employers might be expected to take to help workers who are dealing with cancer continue to stay on the payroll.

To start with, as a recent article in Safety and Health magazine noted, it's crucial to know that cancer patients in remission are considered eligible for protections of the ADA. The law doesn't apply to all companies, only those that have at least 15 workers. If yours does, then you may need to be sensitive to the challenges that recovering cancer patients might face.

Next, it is important to remember that a diagnosis of cancer is not necessarily the death sentence it used to be. Survival rates are much better than just 30 years ago. The prognosis in many cases depends on the kind of cancer involved, how early it is caught and how strenuous the treatment is.

Experts say it's not uncommon for workers undergoing treatment to want to remain on the job. And under the ADA, to meet their desires, accommodation may be required as long as it doesn't create undue hardship.

Fatigue is a common side effect of treatment and it may linger well after treatment has ended. Under the ADA, possible accommodation might include providing the employee with more or longer breaks. Allowing them to work when they feel up to it might be an option, as well. Exploring work-at-home scenarios or scaling back hours and responsibilities could be helpful.

Through it all, experts say commitment to a plan of flexibility by employer and employee may be the thing that maintains an even keel.

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