Cancer survivors experience fewer callbacks from prospective employers, study finds

Researchers say health characteristics should be included in diversity training programs

Posted November 19, 2015

Job applicants who are cancer survivors are less likely to receive callbacks from potential retail employers than those who did not disclose their health history, according to a recent study by Rice University and Penn State University researchers.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology by the American Psychological Association, focused on retail employers and compared two groups of job applicants: applicants who ostensibly never had cancer and applicants who indicated on their resumes they were cancer survivors and wore a hat that read “cancer survivor” when applying for a job.

According to the research, applicants disclosing a cancer history received fewer callbacks from managers than the applicants who did not disclose a history of cancer. For the cancer survivor group, 21 percent received callbacks. For the control group, nearly 37 percent 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 (ADA), 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 Penn 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.

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

Also as part of the study, researchers conducted 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 results indicated that workers with a history of cancer were rated higher in “warmth” than in competency.

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

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.

ADA Essentials ManualJ. J. Keller's ADA Essentials Manual reviews Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines and provides plain-English explanations to help you stay in compliance.


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