Are you thinking about filing a wrongful termination lawsuit after being fired for having cancer? Whether your employer fired you for taking too much time off, or gave away your job while you were on leave, here’s how you can win your lawsuit.

1. Know your rights and options

You have certain legal protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and if you work in California, you’re also protected under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). One of your rights is unpaid time off, even if you don’t know exactly when you expect to return to work. If your employer allows you to take unpaid time off, that’s within your rights. Being fired, however, is not.

“You should not be fired simply because you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and are temporarily unable to work. Your employer should accommodate your condition and grant time off without pay. If you’re let go rather than provided the opportunity to take unpaid leave, you likely have a strong wrongful termination lawsuit,” says Eric A. Panitz of Los Angeles-based Wrongful Termination Law Group.

Protections under the ADA

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), cancer is considered a disability, and you can request reasonable accommodations from your employer. 

Your employer doesn’t have to grant every request if it will create undue hardship, but they can’t deny your requests just because it will create a little extra work for them. For instance, they might need to hire a temp for a few months while you take time off. Hiring a temp isn’t likely to be considered an ‘undue hardship’ unless your role with the company is so specialized that it requires a serious effort to find a replacement.

To get a reasonable accommodation, it’s best to make the request in writing and make sure your request is connected to your medical condition. For example, say you receive medical treatments mid-Wednesday morning and can’t start work until right after your appointment. Make sure you request a late start time on Wednesdays because of your medical appointments.

Protections under FMLA

If you work in California, you might be protected under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Protection isn’t automatic, but if you meet the requirements, you’re entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. During this time, your health benefits cannot be terminated and you cannot lose your job. When you return to work, your employer must put you in the same or equivalent position without docking your pay or benefits.

2. File a lawsuit

If you’ve been fired from your job for being treated for cancer, you’re going to see your medical and household/personal bills pile up fast. There’s only one way to recover these costs: file a lawsuit.

Don’t hesitate to file a discrimination or wrongful termination lawsuit. The sooner you get the ball rolling, the sooner you can get compensated if you win.

The first thing you want to do is talk to a wrongful termination attorney in your area. They’ll ask for details about your situation and determine if you have a case. If you do have a strong case, they’ll explain how you can move forward to sue your employer for discrimination or wrongful termination.

3. Obtain a right to sue letter

Before you can sue, you’ll need to obtain a “right to sue” letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Most employment discrimination cases can’t be filed without this letter. To get this letter, you first need to file a complaint with the EEOC so that they can investigate the matter. If compelling evidence is found, you’ll receive a Letter of Determination with a right to sue letter when they close your case. Even if they don’t find any evidence of discrimination, you’ll still get a right to sue letter.

Once you have a right to sue letter from the EEOC, you’ll have 90 days to file a lawsuit, so it’s beneficial if you’ve already established a connection with an attorney first. If not, you can still make that connection, but you’ll need to do it promptly.

Don’t try to sue your employer without an attorney

Having an experienced wrongful termination attorney is critical for winning your case. It’s not advised to represent yourself because the law is complex and without experience, you won’t know how to win your case or how to proceed when offered the opportunity to settle. Should you settle or go to trial? An experienced wrongful termination attorney will know exactly what’s best for your case.

Even if you do manage to negotiate compensation on your own, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the compensation you truly deserve. Chances are, you’ll negotiate a settlement that is far lower than what your case is worth. Don’t underestimate the power of hiring a wrongful termination lawyer to handle your case. They’re your best option for recovering the compensation you deserve.