The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. The Minnesota Human Rights Act is a Minnesota state law that also provides protections to those with disabilities in Minnesota. In some cases, having cancer may meet one of the three different definitions of "disability" that these laws use to determine when the special protections they provide come into play. While both of these law provide protections in many other areas, such as public transportation, accommodations and telecommunications, only those provisions dealing with employment are discussed in this website. If you are interested in learning more about the other aspects of the laws, click on the links above to get more information.
In fully understanding your rights as a cancer survivor and which laws may protect you in the workplace, it is important to understand how these two important laws work together. As a federal law, the ADA is applicable to every state and as such, it sets the floor of what protections qualified individuals are entitled to and what covered employers must provide. Some states chose to provide additional protections to employees in their state. In doing so, state laws can only add to the protections afforded by the ADA, not reduce them.
The Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) is the law in Minnesota that expands some of the protections of the ADA and very well may provide you as an employee with more rights than you would have under the ADA alone. For this reason, the two laws are discussed together in this website. The ADA provisions will be discussed and any additional protections provided by the MHRA provided as well so that you can evaluate your own particular circumstance in the context of both of these laws.
Many people, including employers, may be familiar with the ADA and believe that because it is so well known, that it is the final authority in dealing with disability issues. Most are surprised to learn that Minnesota has been prohibiting disability discrimination in the workplace since 1973 (long before the ADA become law in 1990) and of the additional protections the MHRA provides. Sometimes even very well meaning employers may not realize that they must comply with both the ADA and the MHRA. In this situation, being informed means that a cancer survivor is able to effectively advocate for themselves and enjoy the benefits of the protections that are there for them.
The laws require: a covered employer to “reasonably accommodate” a qualified individual with a disability who can perform the “essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.”
What this means is that if an individual is qualified to perform essential job functions except for limitations caused by a disability, the employer must consider whether the individual could perform these functions with a reasonable accommodation. If the applicant or employee could perform the job with a reasonable accommodation, it is against the law for that employer to discriminate against the job applicant or to refuse the reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability.
As more fully laid out in the following sections, the determination of a disability and what constitutes a reasonable accommodation are very complex topics.
These laws prohibit discrimination in all employment practices, including employment application, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, training, recruitment, advertising, tenure, layoff, leave, and benefits.
Each individual circumstance is different and presents unique complexities. Cancer in particular, defies easy categorization in terms of how disabling it or its treatment may be. Courts have historically found in favor of employers in actions brought against them by an employee alleging disability discrimination. In fact, studies show that over 90% of the disability discrimination claims filed under the ADA are determined in favor of the employer. It is widely believed that the newly enacted protections of the the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act of 2008 (ADAAA)which went into effect on January 1, 2009 will have a profound and positive effect on for individuals with disabilities, including cancer, in the workplace.