In this monthly column, Anthony Askowitz explores a hypothetical Miami real estate situation from both sides of the broker/agent dynamic.
A successful Miami real estate agent has been diagnosed with a (relatively treatable) form of cancer and is struggling with the question of whether she should share the news with colleagues and clients.
The bad news is I have cancer. The good news is it was detected early, has already been surgically removed, and according to my doctors, very treatable.
According to everyone who matters, I seem to have dodged a bullet and can expect to make a complete recovery.
My family and close circle of friends have been extraordinary in their love and concern for me. However, I have not said anything to my professional friends, colleagues or clients, and I am struggling with how much or how little to tell them at this time.
Some of them have noticed a change in my weight, pace or coloring, and they’ve asked me privately if everything is OK. Now that everything is looking good for the foreseeable future, I am tempted to let everyone know, but I’m not ready to take that step yet.
My announcement could be misunderstood or not believed, and that could lead to a wide range of unintended consequences.
On the other hand, what if there are already rumors about my health flying around? Wouldn’t it be better for me to control the message rather than let misinformation snowball? I certainly don’t want to lose business because of any misperception that I am not well.
I think I will let my broker into the little club of people who know, and see what he thinks.
I am so proud of this agent for facing her diagnosis with so much courage and strength. I was honored that she shared her status with me and am happy to give my advice.
In my opinion, she has analyzed this issue correctly. On the one hand, a person’s health is an extremely private matter, and she has every right to keep the diagnosis under wraps as long as she is not putting herself, her colleagues or her clients in any danger.
If this were a situation in which her health was expected to decline, I might advise her differently, but fortunately that is not the case here.
It is true that some clients might not be comfortable being represented by someone facing serious health challenges, and those clients might use that information to opt-out of their contracts.
There needs to be some legitimate concern for customers in cases where an agent will not be able to answer the phone for extended periods of time. We are in a service business, and that is a reality with which we must live.
On the other hand, if she feels comfortable letting everyone know, it is absolutely essential that she control her own message and communicate the news strategically. I would start by privately letting close colleagues and clients know face-to-face or over the telephone, and I would begin each conversation with the message that “I am going to be fine.”
The next step might be an inter-office email that extends the circle a little bit more. A final measure might be to make the announcement on social media, once again assuring readers that a full recovery is expected. (I would reinforce this up by posting photos of myself appearing active and healthy in the days and weeks that follow.)
It is important to know that there are legal protections and accommodations to which an employee is entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but the employer does need to be notified.
As stated on this Equal Employment Opportunity Commission web page about the ADA: “Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation only for the physical or mental limitations of a qualified individual with a disability of which they are aware. Generally, it is the responsibility of the employee to inform the employer that an accommodation is needed.”
However, many real estate agents are considered “independent contractor salespeople” and not “employees,” as stated in Verdecchia v. Douglas A. Prozan, Inc. For these reasons, I would highly recommend consulting an attorney about ADA protections.
As a practice, I should also mention that our office goes above and beyond in cases where an agent becomes sick or experiences a family emergency. In these situations, the agent is welcome to go on leave and their monthly fees are suspended.
Whatever the case, this is an extremely personal decision, and anyone in this position should make it only after careful thought and discussion with family members.
Regular readers of this column know that my goal each month is to explore hypothetical real estate office situations and try to find solutions. Unfortunately, this situation became all too real for me in October, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Like the “agent” in this column, I struggled with what information to tell which people and when, and there are no easy answers, but I have been absolutely floored by the avalanche of support I have received from family, physicians, friends, colleagues and customers.
Obviously, I have opted to be open about my condition rather than keep it private, but I absolutely respect any colleague who chooses to go in the other direction.
My tumor has been removed, I am back at work full time and generally feel fine, and I am expected to make a complete recovery. I am extremely lucky in so many ways, and I invite you to support other thyroid cancer survivors by visiting and donating to ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc.
Anthony Askowitz is the broker-owner of RE/MAX Advance Realty in South Miami and Kendall, where he leads the activities of more than 180 agents. He is also a working agent who consistently sells more than 125 homes a year. In 2017, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce honored him with the R.E.A.L. award in the category of “Real Estate Broker — Residential.”