You decide whether to communicate your diagnosis to your employer. However, you may eventually need to tell your employer. Cancer treatment and recovery does require time and may impact your ability to work.
The time you will need depends on the type of cancer and treatment regimen. Some patients find satisfaction in working while undergoing treatment while others (with suppressed immune systems) may need all the rest they can get.
Before speaking with your employer, I recommend you follow these steps:
- Talk to your doctor about treatment, recovery and the time you might need off
- Understand how cancer and treatment might affect your ability to do your job
- Brainstorm with your employer as to how they might help (flexible schedule, light work, etc…)
- Prepare to provide medical documentation about the needed time off and job restrictions
- Know your rights under US law (see below)
Two laws, in particular, protect individuals with illness from workplace discrimination.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): ADA protects individuals with disabilities against discrimination in the process of hiring, firing, promotions, training opportunities and many other activities. Cancer is defined as a disability under the ADA when it [cancer] or its side effects substantially limit(s) one or more of a person’s major life activities. The law also requires that employers make reasonable accommodations so that people with a disability or disabling chronic illness are able to function in the workplace. Accommodations can include anything from modifying a work schedule to altering the physical workplace to make it accessible. Note: Learn more from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Q&A About Cancer and ADA. The Department of Justice provides information about ADA through a toll-free line at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY).
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) : This law allows qualified employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period. There are four reasons covered, but only two pertaining to cancer treatment: To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or To take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition. During this leave, an employee’s job is protected and that person must be considered for any promotions he or she might be eligible for. Note:Learn more from the United States Department of Labor on FMLA Benefits.
Remember: Use your doctor! Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor to write a letter or call your employer to explain your condition. Remember that your doctor will not share your information without your consent due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). You need as much support as possible.