Q. I was just diagnosed with cancer and plan to continue working. Do I have to tell my employer that I have cancer?

A.

Many people continue to work productively while being treated for cancer. Continuing to work can be vital to your sense of well being and is a source of income and, often, health insurance. Each workplace has its own unique culture. Whether or not to tell your employer about your cancer is both a personal and practical decision.

Many myths about cancer exist in our society, including in the workplace. For instance, employers and coworkers may assume that a person with cancer or their caregivers are not able to perform job responsibilities as well as before cancer. Sometimes, these misconceptions can lead to subtle or blatant discrimination.

It is important for you to become familiar with the laws protecting you before you decide whether or not to disclose your cancer diagnosis.

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requires that organizations with 15 or more employees comply with ADA guidelines. These are the criteria to take advantage of ADA protection: meet the ADA definition of “disabled person,” qualify for the job and be able to perform its essential functions, and not pose a risk to your own or others' health and safety. The ADA recommends that any accommodation that you need does not cause “undue hardship” to your employer.

Flexible work hours to meet treatment schedules and doctors appointments is the most frequent workplace accommodation required by people living with cancer. If you require flextime, it is important to disclose your cancer diagnosis to your supervisor or human resources department to be protected under the ADA. If no reason is given for frequent requests of flextime, you could risk jeopardizing your job security. For more information, contact the ADA at 1-800-514-0301.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) enables the person with cancer and family members to take unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks within one calendar year. The FMLA applies to organizations with 50 or more employees. The employee must have worked with his or her employer for at least one year, and employers must continue health benefits during the leave. Leave does not have to be taken all at once, but can be taken in blocks of time.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency that enforces the provisions of the ADA and FMLA and assists citizens who feel they have been discriminated against in the workplace. If you feel you are being treated unfairly, contact the EEOC at 1-800-669-4000.

CancerCare’s oncology social workers provide practical resources and help with your workplace concerns. Call 1-800-813-HOPE (4673) or email info@cancercare.org.