When it comes to the fight against cancer the good news is that we’ve made remarkable progress, as more people than ever are now beating the disease, or able to live longer and happier lives. Indeed, statistics show that nearly 5.6 million people considered to be of working age are currently cancer survivors.

As encouraging as this is, the somewhat sobering reality is that many of these cancer survivors may find themselves having to combat a new and unexpected foe: job discrimination.  If you don’t believe it, consider a recent study by researchers at Penn State University.

How was the study structured?

In an attempt to gauge the degree to which cancer survivors might face job discrimination, five researchers, all of whom were between the ages of 21-29, went undercover and applied for jobs at 121 retail stores spread out among three shopping malls in a southern U.S. city.

On some of the applications, the researchers indicated that they were cancer survivors and, if contacted for an interview, wore a hat emblazoned with “cancer survivor.” On the other applications, the control group, no mention of cancer was made.

What did they find?

The researchers found that while 37 percent of the applications submitted by the control group received callbacks from prospective employers, only 21 percent of the applications submitted by the cancer survivor group received callbacks. This was deemed a statistically significant difference by the researchers.

Why would prospective employers have negative expectations about cancer survivors?

According to the researchers, employers might have concerns about cancer survivors falling ill again, being limited in their work abilities and/or a possible insurance liability.

Were the actions of the employers in the study legal?

Despite what the researchers said was clearly subtle discrimination on the part of employers, no hiring laws were actually broken. This isn’t to say, however, that cancer survivors or sufferers are without legal protection. Indeed, they are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, something we’ll explore in a future post.