Cancer and the Workplace

If you've just learned you have cancer, you may be thinking about how you'll tell the people in your life. You probably want to tell those closest to you, but what about your employer?

"At a time when you may feel that you have lost so much control because you have cancer, you do have a choice about this," says Monica Bryant, a lawyer and chief operating officer at Cancer Triage. "If you decide you'd like to keep your privacy, you can still access all the rights and benefits you're entitled to without disclosing that you have cancer."

If your employer has at least 50 employees, the organization must follow a law called the Family Medical Leave Act. The law gives employees who are seriously ill 12 workweeks of leave during a 12-month period. If you've been at your job at least 12 months in the last 7 years, and you've worked the equivalent of about 24 hours a week per year, you're probably eligible. Leave can give you the time you need for treatment, including surgery, recovery, and chemotherapy.

But you might need more than time off to help you through treatment. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes sure that organizations with at least 15 employees help make the adjustments employees need to do their job during and after a serious illness.

"Not enough people know about reasonable accommodations and utilize them to their full benefit," says Bryant. "They're one of the most important tools for individuals to either work through treatments or to return to work after treatment."

Reasonable accommodations, as the ADA calls them, are exactly that: accommodations, as long as they are within reason, that will help you do your job when you're sick. The things you might need depend on many things. A big factor is what kinds of side effects you have from treatment, such as fatigue, nausea, pain, or trouble thinking clearly. You won't know what accommodations would help you until you need them. And, that may change over time.

"What somebody needs soon after treatment is likely going to be different 3 months out, 5 years out, and 10 years out," says Bryant.

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