Cancer as a Disability – $846,000 Award for Failure to Accommodate Employee During Cancer Recovery

The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) today announced its largest-ever administrative award of $846,300 against electrical supplier Acme Electric Corporation for firing an employee who was recovering from cancer.

Charles Richard Wideman worked for Acme Electric as western regional sales manager overseeing sales operations in the company’s largest territory from February 2004 to March 2008.   He developed kidney cancer in 2006 and prostate cancer in 2007, which required two surgeries and numerous cancer-related outpatient appointments.

Although the company immediately granted his two requests for time off for  surgery and recuperative leave, they failed to grant his request for further accommodation for the travel limitation his cancers caused from June 2006 through April 2007.  Instead, Mr. Wideman’s supervisor gave him an unfavorable performance evaluation that criticized him for insufficient travel.  On February 28, 2008, Mr. Wideman was fired.

After a three-day hearing, the State’s Fair Employment and Housing Commission found Acme Electric violated the FEHA by failing to accommodate Mr. Wideman’s known travel limitation due to his cancers, failing to engage in a good faith interactive process, discriminating against Mr. Wideman because of his disability, and failing to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination from occurring.

PRACTICAL TIP:  Employers should remember that the definition of physical disability under FEHA is different from what you may perceive to be a physical disability.  A disease that affects a body system and limits a major life activity (work is a major life activity) is considered a disability.  Thus, an employee who fits this definition is entitled to reasonable accommodations and you should be sure to engage in the interactive process.

Employees, if you suffer from a disease that limits your ability to work, communicate with your employer to determine an accommodation that is suitable for you and allows you to perform the essential functions of your job.

For both employers and employees, documentation is key.

In: Employment Law

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