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Cancer Survivors May Face Discrimination From Potential Employers

Cancer Survivors May Face Discrimination From Potential Employers

Cancer survivors who disclose their health history when applying for a retail job are less likely to receive callbacks from potential employers than those who do not disclose their health history, according to a new study by Rice University and Pennsylvania State University researchers.

The study focused on retail employers and compared two groups of job applicants: those who’d never had cancer and those who indicated on their resumes they were cancer survivors and wore a hat that read “cancer survivor” when applying for a job.

Applicants who were open about their cancer history received fewer callbacks from managers than those who did not disclose a history of cancer. Overall, only 21 percent of the cancer survivors received callbacks, while nearly 37 percent of the non-cancer applicants received callbacks, a statistically significant difference, according to the researchers.

“This is especially problematic as people with chronic and past illnesses are protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and our findings indicate that cancer survivors do tend to disclose their cancer histories with interviewers at relatively high rates,” said lead researcher Larry Martinez, assistant professor of hospitality management at Pennsylvania State.

Martinez, who earned his undergraduate degree, master’s degree and Ph.D. at Rice University under the guidance of co-author Mikki Hebl, professor of psychology and management, began the research for this study as part of his graduate work.

“Basically, people are more likely to discriminate in very subtle interpersonal ways. There’s less eye contact. There are shorter interaction times when speaking with managers. There are more negative interpersonal behaviors from managers, like frowning, brow furrowing, and less smiling — fewer cues that communicate to applicants that they are interested in hiring them for the job,” said Martinez.

While researchers note that no hiring laws were broken, they found evidence of discrimination. “Despite the fact that cancer survivors are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, we did see this difference in callbacks between them and the general public, as well as the negative interpersonal treatment they received,” Martinez said.

The research also involved an online survey with 87 participants who were employed full time, most of whom had management experience or experience as an interviewer. Participants were asked to provide their opinions regarding how people feel about cancer survivors in the workplace. The findings showed that workers with a history of cancer were rated higher in “warmth” than in competency.

Researchers note that while diversity efforts have generally increased over the last decade, health characteristics are often not included in diversity programs.

“Managers and employees should be mindful of the fact that although societal attitudes toward cancer survivors are generally quite positive, with people often viewing them as champions who have successfully overcome a traumatic experience, we nonetheless might perceive them as being less desirable employees simply because of their history with cancer,” Martinez said.

Next steps in this area could include training managers to be mindful of subtle biases they might have toward people with past and chronic health conditions, according to Martinez and Hebl.

“We could train applicants who might be prone to experiencing discrimination how to present themselves in interviews in ways to reduce possible negativity they might experience,” Martinez said.

The findings are published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Source: Rice University

Cancer survivor photo by shutterstock.

Cancer Survivors May Face Discrimination From Potential Employers

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Cancer Survivors May Face Discrimination From Potential Employers. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 7 Nov 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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