Skip to main content

How to Enforce Your Legal Rights

If you suspect that you are being treated differently at work because of your cancer history, consider an informal solution before leaping into a lawsuit. You want to stand up for your legal rights without casting yourself as a troublemaker.

If you face discrimination, consider the following suggestions:

  • Use your employer's policies and procedures for resolving employment issues informally.
  • If you need some kind of accommodation to help you work, such as flexible working hours to accommodate doctor's appointments, suggest several alternatives to your employer.
  • Provide your employer with information from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or Job Accommodation Network to support your requests.
  • Educate employers and co-workers who might believe that people cannot survive cancer and remain productive workers.
  • Ask a member of your health care team (physician, nurse or social worker) to write or call your employer to offer to mediate the conflict and suggest ways for your employer to accommodate you.
  • Seek support from your co-workers.

If informal solutions fail, consider several steps to protect your right to file a lawsuit:

  • Keep carefully written records of all job actions, both good and bad.
  • Pause before you sue. Carefully evaluate your goals. For example, do you want your job back, a change in working conditions, certain benefits, a written apology or something else? Consider the positive and negative aspects of a lawsuit. Potential positive aspects include getting a job and reimbursement for monetary damages, protecting your rights, and tearing down barriers for other survivors. Potential negative aspects include long court battles with no guarantee of victory (some cases drag on for five years or more), legal fees and expenses, stress, a hostile relationship between you and the people you sue, and a reputation in your field as a troublemaker.
  • Consider an informal settlement of your complaint. Someone such as a union representative, human resources or personnel officer of your company, or social worker may be able to assist as a mediator. Your state or federal representative or local media may help persuade your employer to treat you fairly. Keep in mind that the first step most government agencies and companies take when they receive a complaint is to try to resolve the dispute without a costly trial.
  • Be aware of filing deadlines so you do not lose your option to file a complaint under state or federal law. You have 180 days from the date of the action against you to file a complaint under the ADA with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If you work for the federal government, you have only 45 days to begin counseling with an equal employment opportunity counselor. Under most state laws, you have 180 days to file a complaint with the state agency. If you file a complaint and later change your mind, you can drop the lawsuit at any time.

Excerpts taken from: The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) booklet, Working it Out: Your Employment Rights as a Cancer Survivor.

We're Here to Help

Call The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) at (800) 955-4572 to talk with an Information Specialist for help with the challenges of your diagnosis. LLS is committed to providing information, support and guidance to people living with leukemia, Hodgkin or non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes or myeloproliferative diseases. LLS also provides information to healthcare professionals involved in the care of patients with these diseases.

Other Resources

Below are resources and organizations that may be able to help you with your employment concerns. You can also visit LLS's Resource Center for a list of more organizations.

Contact: 202-663-4900 or 800-669-4000 
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.

Contact: 800-526-7234 
Offers free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. Working toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee, JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability, and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace.

Contact: 866-487-2365 
The Department of Labor enforces wage and hours laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act.


Reviewed by Joanna Fawzy Morales, Esq. January 2014.