Returning to work after cancer: know your rights
Returning to work after cancer treatment is one way to get your life back to normal. But you may have some concerns about what it will be like. Knowing your rights may help ease any anxiety.
Several laws protect your right to work. In most cases, to be protected by these laws, you need to tell your employer that you have had cancer. However, your employer must protect your privacy. An employer also cannot ask about your treatment, health, or chance of recovery.
Learn about your legal rights as a cancer survivor and the laws that protect you.
The American Disabilities Act
This law can protect you if your company has 15 or more people on staff. Under this law, employers must make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. Some cancer or treatment side effects like fatigue, pain, and trouble concentrating, are considered disabilities.
Reasonable accommodations might include:
You can request a reasonable accommodation at any point while you are working. For instance, you can make a request on your first day back and after several months. Your employer may ask for a letter from your doctor, but cannot ask to see your medical records.
The Family Medical Leave Act
This law applies to workplaces with more than 50 employees. It allows people with cancer and other serious illness to take unpaid leave without risking losing their job. It also covers family members who need to take time off to care for their loved one.
Under this law, you have the following rights:
You have the following responsibilities under the Family and Medical Leave Act:
The Affordable Care Act
The Affordable Care Act went into effect on January 1, 2014. Under this law, a group health plan cannot refuse to cover you because you had cancer. The law protects you in these other ways as well:
Many preventive services no longer include copays. Your health plan has to cover the full cost of:
Working With Your Employer
When returning to work, there are some things you can do to make things go more smoothly.
Looking for a New Job
It is your choice whether to talk about your cancer history during a job interview. It is not legal for the person interviewing you to ask about your health or medical condition. Even if you tell them you had cancer, the person interviewing you cannot ask questions about your diagnosis or treatment.
If you have gaps in your work history, you can organize your resume by skills rather than dates of employment. If a question comes up about the time when you could not work, it is up to you to decide how much information to share. If you do not want to talk about cancer, you may just want to say you were out of work for a health-related issue, but that it is in the past.
You may find it helpful to talk a career counselor or oncology social worker about job-hunt strategies. You can also practice role-playing so you know how to handle certain questions.
Where to Get Help
If you feel you have been discriminated against, you can contact a counselor at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- www.eeoc.gov/federal/fed_employees/counselor.cfm. You have 45 days after the day the event took place to file a complaint.
ASCO Cancer.Net website. Finding a job after cancer. www.cancer.net/survivorship/life-after-cancer/finding-job-after-cancer. Updated December 8, 2016. Accessed February 15, 2018.
ASCO Cancer.Net website. Cancer and workplace discrimination. www.cancer.net/survivorship/life-after-cancer/cancer-and-workplace-discrimination. Updated February 16, 2017. Accessed February 15, 2018.
ASCO Cancer.Net website. Returning to school or work after cancer. www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/young-adults/returning-school-or-work-after-cancer. Updated October 2017. Accessed February 15, 2018.
HealthCare.gov website. Health coverage rights and protections. www.healthcare.gov/health-care-law-protections/#part=3. Accessed February 15, 2018.
National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) website. Employment rights. www.canceradvocacy.org/resources/employment-rights. Accessed February 15, 2018.
National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) website. How employment discrimination laws protect cancer survivors. www.canceradvocacy.org/resources/employment-rights/how-employment-discrimination-laws-protect-cancer-survivors. Accessed February 15, 2018.
Review Date: 1/31/2018
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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