For Any Cancer Diagnosis
I have a full-time job. How will side effects from my chemotherapy affect my ability to work?A.
Many people are able to continue working during their treatments and being proactive can make all the difference. The keys are good communication with your health care team, knowing up front what the expected side effects will be, and developing a plan with your doctor.
Schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk about your job and its activities. Make sure that your doctor understands the importance of your job as a source of health insurance, income and purpose, and that your employment be considered in any medical decisions. Get details about your treatment side effects and develop a plan that addresses each one. Explore with your doctor options that will make it easier to continue working, such as scheduling treatments on Friday afternoons to minimize their impact on work.
Once you have spoken with your doctor and know better what to expect, you may want to talk to your supervisor or human resource department about your need for flex time or time off. If you work full time, learn about workplace legal protections and accommodations. Know the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. You may also contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. All are helpful resources for understanding your legal rights in the workplace when you have cancer.
CancerCare offers these additional resources:
A number of employees in our workplace have cancer. As the personnel director, I would like to organize educational programs to help all our employees learn more about cancer. How do I do this?A.
Many human resource departments are proactive in helping their employees cope with cancer in the workplace. They demonstrate compassion by developing educational programs to help employees with their concerns.
Companies address cancer in the workplace with education and information. Some employers offer annual company-wide health fairs. Smaller companies may not be able to offer a large health fair for their employees, but they might be able to work with their benefits provider to host smaller events and workshops during the year.
Another way to provide low-cost employee education is to partner with community outreach programs, cancer centers, and nonprofit organizations that can provide educational materials and seminars.
Examples of workshop topics include:
- Cancer treatment updates
- Early detection of cancer
- Communicating with your doctor
- Coping with a co-worker’s cancer
- Review of employer sponsored health plans
CancerCare offers many resources that can assist human resource departments to develop educational programs and services for their employees, including:
- A comprehensive overview of all the services that we offer.
- Fact sheets on prevention and early detection to distribute at workplace seminars and health fairs.
- A staff of professional oncology social workers who are available to assist you and your employees with cancer-related concerns.
Contact us at 1-800-813-HOPE (4673) to learn more about how we can help.
My co-worker told me she has cancer. I don't know what to talk about or what to say to her.A.
Many people are not sure what to say when someone they know is diagnosed with cancer. Our work relationships are an integral part of the fabric of our lives. Many of us spend more waking hours at work than at home. Many families are scattered geographically and so for some people, the workplace is “family.” The extent of your involvement depends upon the nature of your relationship prior to the cancer diagnosis. Here are some suggestions that may help you:
- Ask your co-worker if she wants to talk about her cancer diagnosis and treatment
- Be willing to listen
- Ask how you can help and be specific with ideas
- Tell her that you care about how she is feeling
- Keep your conversations confidential
- Try to maintain a normal office relationship with her
- Send a card or pay a visit if she is in the hospital
- Offer to help her find resources
We also have a number of publications that offer additional tips:
- Caregiving for Your Loved One With Cancer
- What Can I Say to a Newly Diagnosed Loved One
- Caring Advice for Caregivers
You may also want to speak with a CancerCare oncology social worker to discuss your concerns.
I am an employer and one of my employees has just been diagnosed with cancer. I want to be helpful but am not sure what I should do.A.
The most important things you can do are to listen to the employee who discloses his or her cancer diagnosis and to offer workplace support. It is critical to let the employee who is living with cancer know about the ability of your workplace to make accommodations for his or her needs. The key message you as an employer can offer an employee is your willingness to work with them, if at all possible, to help them continue working as long as their doctor supports their decision to work and they are able to do the job.
The following are some tips that many employers find useful:
- Know the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Family and Medical Leave Act and make that information available to supervisors and employees.
- Create a workplace culture that allows flextime or other accommodations for cancer patients who can and wants to continue working.
- Educate managers to deal sensitively with employees who have cancer so that they do not make assumptions about their ability to perform job duties.
- Teach managers to maintain a dialogue with employees being treated for cancer so that adjustments in workload or work schedules can be anticipated.
- Allow employees to decide if or how they would like coworkers to be informed of their illness and honor requests for confidentiality.
- Work closely with your human resource department regarding employee benefits and resources.
You may also find CancerCare publications, covering a broad range of cancer-related topics, helpful. Our professional oncology social workers can also assist employees with cancer, their coworkers, and managers.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am looking for legal advice about my job. Because of my treatment I had for cancer, I can not drive. My job wants me back in the office full time. I have been working from home this past year. My husband has to drive me to work and that is one hour with out traffic and I go in the office 2 times a week. Starting in September I was told I had to start working full time in the office knowing I have nerve damage to my feet / legs and I get cramps. Please help.A.
I’m sorry to hear that your job is not being more supportive of your needs during post-treatment. Given your cancer diagnosis you should be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA. This law applies to any employer with 15 or more employees and protects against job discrimination for people with cancer and people who had cancer in the past that may still be impacting their ability to work. According to the ADA, as long as you are able to perform the essential functions of your job, your employer must make reasonable accommodations. If you can do your job from home, it would be a reasonable accommodation for your employer to allow you to continue working remotely. You should discuss this accommodation with your HR department, letting them know your situation and that you would like to request a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. If your HR department refuses to make this accommodation you could reach out to your local Legal Aid office or any of the resources below for additional assistance:
The Cancer Legal Resource Center
Cancer Legal Resource Center (CLRC) is a program of the Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC), a 501C-3 non-profit, public interest advocacy organization that champions the civil rights of people with disabilities as well as those affected by cancer and other serious illness. DRLC’s Cancer Legal Resource Center provides information through its national telephone assistance line, outreach programs and community activities to educate and to support cancer patients, their families, healthcare professionals and advocates on matters like maintaining employment through treatment, accessing healthcare and government benefits, taking medical leave and estate planning.
Triage Cancer is a national, nonprofit organization that provides free education on the legal and practical issues that may impact individuals diagnosed with cancer and their caregivers, through events, materials, and resources.
Legal and financial navigation program: https://triagecancer.org/gethelp
Since I'm not sure how I'll feel during treatment, how do I approach my employer about possibly needing some time off? Can it be flexible? I've been told some people are able to continue to work, but not all.A.
You’re right that it’s hard to know ahead of time how treatment is going to impact you and your ability to work. Some people are able to work during treatment and others require more time off. I would recommend speaking with your direct supervisor and an HR representative as soon as possible to let them know your treatment plan and ask about your company’s benefits and time-off policy, including short-term disability and FMLA.
If you’re going to be treated with chemotherapy, some people find that they need to take about a week off immediately after treatment but then are able to return to work for 1-2 weeks before their next infusion, depending on how far apart your treatments are. If you’re going to be treated with radiation, some people choose to schedule their radiation appointments either early in the morning or late in the afternoon and go to work before or after, though that schedule can become difficult the longer you undergo radiation due to its cumulative effects.
Again, speaking with your supervisor and HR ahead of time will help you better understand your options and prepare for treatment. I would also recommend speaking with your support system of family and friends, as you will likely need additional practical and emotional support as you go through treatment. If you have additional questions or need any help finding resources along the way, please feel free to call CancerCare’s Hopeline at (800) 813-4673. I’m also including some great organizations below that focus on working while undergoing treatment:
Cancer and Careers provides essential tools and information for employees with cancer. They offer a comprehensive website, free publications, career coaching, insurance information, and a series of support groups and educational seminars for employees with cancer and their healthcare providers and coworkers. Also, offers a free résumé review service and a micro-grant program to help pay for professional development opportunities to build new skills.
Leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. Working toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee, JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability, and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace.
Provides education on the practical and legal issues that may impact individuals diagnosed with cancer and their caregivers.