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Employment and Cancer

For some, treatment requires frequent or lengthy hospital visits or stays. Your health care team may be able to offer advice on the likelihood of your treatment affecting your ability to work, so it is important to talk with them about what you do in your job, as well as your priorities. A cancer diagnosis does not mean that there will be a need to work less or leave your job, although some people do. There is not one “right” answer.

Some things to consider might be:

  • Do I enjoy my work and/or find it a welcome distraction?
  • Can I complete my work functions while on treatment?
  • How would taking time away from work affect my income? If I take time away from work, will the Family and Medical Leave Act apply?
  • How much sick leave do I have?
  • Do I live in a state with state-sponsored short term disability insurance?
  • Will I qualify for long term Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)? If so, do I have savings to carry me through the 5 month waiting period?
  • Do I have a disability insurance benefit through my employer? If so, how much will it pay? Do I have private disability insurance? If so, how much will it pay?
  • If I decide to stop work temporarily or permanently, how will this affect me and others?
  • If I decide to stop work, what will I need to do to keep my health insurance?

Talking with Your Employer

Many people diagnosed with cancer wonder if and how much they should tell their employer.

Some find it helpful to tell their employers about their cancer diagnosis, while others wish to keep it private. Do what feels right to you.

If you do decide to talk with your employer, prepare beforehand by talking with your health care team about how much time you may need to be away from work or if they have recommendations about your work schedule. Do your part to keep the channel of communication open.

It is good practice to take notes and keep records of your conversations regarding your cancer diagnosis and your overall job performance.

In the unlikely event that you have problems with your employer in the future, careful records can prove invaluable.

There are laws that may protect you and provide access to certain benefits due to your cancer diagnosis.

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Protects eligible workers against discrimination in the process of hiring, firing, promotions and many other activities. This requires that employers make reasonable accommodations so that people with disabilities are able to function in the workplace. Most states provide additional protections. Check with your state’s fair employment agency.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): Protects individuals who need to take time off from work due to their own illness or to care for a family member. The FMLA entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid job and benefit-protected leave in a 12 month period for specified family and medical reasons.

What If I Need to Stop Working?

You may qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), which provides monthly payments to people who have worked for a sufficient period of time, paid Social Security taxes and are deemed “disabled” by Social Security. After two years of receiving this monthly benefit, SSDI recipients are also entitled to Medicare. You may also qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which provides monthly payments to people with low income and asset levels and who are deemed “disabled” by Social Security.