Connie Robinson has been fighting breast cancer for the past three years. That battle alone is enough for one person to endure.
But, during that same period, Robinson says she has been fighting for her right to work. The Daily Mail reports that Robinson has been fired twice because of technicalities from various medical and disabilities laws that are suppose to protect people like her.
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One year after taking a job as an employment specialist in 2009, she learned that she had breast cancer. She left work to undertake chemotherapy. But, during her last week of chemo, she was let go because her employer told her she exhausted a federal leave act that allows her to be away from work for a certain number of days, according to the Daily Mail. She later received a severance package.
“I worked even when I was sick,” Robinson said. “And it didn’t matter. You don’t matter.”
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the American Disabilities Act (ADA) are the two federal acts that protect people with illnesses or disabilities that affect their ability to work.
Her previous employer then encouraged her to apply for a non-profit position funded by a grant. But, given Robinson’s long family history with cancer, she became ill again in the spring of 2010 and was forced into chemotherapy once more. Several months later when she regained her health and was ready to work, she learned that she had been replaced. Her job was a temporary position which is given fewer protections under FMLA and ADA than fulltime employees.
“I was blaming myself,” Robinson said in tears. “What if I hadn’t taken the chemo?”
Both ADA and FMLA gives employees a certain time frame to fight a dismissal if they feel they were discriminated against. But, because Robinson was in the middle of fighting for her life, she had neither the time nor the wherewithal to file a grievance.
But one problem with both acts, according to employment lawyer Harris Butler, is that there are not enough protections for employees. “If the employer wants to let you go, there is not a whole lot you can do about it,” he said.
According to the U.S. Equal Employment And Opportunity Commission, not everyone with a disability can be protected by the law. A person can prove that he or she has a disability in one of three ways:
- A person may be disabled if he or she has a physical or mental condition that substantially limits a major life activity (such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning).
- A person may be disabled if he or she has a history of a disability (such as cancer that is in remission).
- A person may be disabled if he is believed to have a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor (even if he does not have such an impairment).
Dr. Susan Schaffer, Robinson’s oncologist, says that stress from a job that is unsympathetic to an employee’s medical condition can negatively affect their treatment. “I hear case after case of patients telling me ‘my work is not good and if I miss a day, they’re gonna fire me'” Schaffer said.
Right now Robinson is cancer-free! That is the good news. The bad news is that she is worried about paying her bills because she is out of work.
Let us hope that Robinson can find an employer who is supportive of her medical issues and that her cancer stays away for good.
Go to the Daily Mail for more on this story.