Feb 04, 2016 10:00 AM

hands typing at work

Every aspect of life is affected when you are diagnosed with cancer, including your job. It is important to know your rights and to think about options as you make decisions about working during or after cancer treatment.

Continuing to Work during Treatment

Worrying about your ability to work during treatment is a common concern. Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Talk to your doctor about how your disease and your treatments may affect your ability to work. Your ability to work may change depending on the types and length of treatment you get.
  • You may need to work fewer hours or different hours. You may also need to find other ways of doing your job. Talk to your boss about your needs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and some state laws require employers make “reasonable accommodations.” This can mean a change in work hours, duties, or physical changes to the workspace that are necessary for you to do your job.
  • There may be periods when you are unable to work at all. If you have used all your sick leave, or your employer doesn’t offer sick leave, the Family and Medical Leave Act allows people with a serious health condition to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off without risk of losing their job. Talk to your human resources department to learn more.
  • You may feel limited in how much you can accomplish compared to your life before cancer. Many people with cancer find that frustrating. Be patient, listen to your body, and don’t push yourself too hard. You may eventually regain more strength and focus. You may also find ways to maximize your energy even if it isn’t the same as it was before. Read more about managing side effects like fatigue and concentration and memory changes.

Protecting Your Rights at Work during Cancer Treatment

You still have the same rights as every employee in the workplace. It is important to be familiar with guidelines in the ADA. According to the ADA, an employer

  • cannot ask you about your medical history;
  • cannot demand that you undergo a medical examination; and
  • cannot require you to provide medical records from your doctor before making a job offer. Once an employer has made a reasonable job offer, the employer can then require you to commit to a medical examination only if it is required of all other applicants for the job.

Finding Employment after You’ve Had Cancer

Searching for a job may seem overwhelming when you have a cancer history. You may be worried about personal privacy or what would be appropriate to tell your employer. Here are just a few things that may ease your worries.

  • Remember not to discriminate against yourself by assuming you have a disability. You do not have to say that you have or had cancer unless it affects your qualifications for the job.
  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits discrimination based on genetics relating to diseases such as cancer.
  • A prospective employer may not ask detailed questions about your health after you have been offered a job. They may not ask about your health history unless you have a visible disability and the employer can reasonably believe it may affect how you perform a job.
  • If you were unemployed for a long period due to cancer treatment, it may be hard to explain that time in a job interview. It is perfectly acceptable to say you had a medical issue you needed to take care of. You do not need to provide more details about what the medical issue was.

More Information

Learn more about working during cancer treatment from the American Cancer Society. Utah residents can find more information about legal rights and services at the Utah Disability Law Center or Utah Legal Services.


Cancer touches all of us.

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