In the Workplace

Will you be able to work during your cancer treatment? It depends on a number of factors, including the stage of your cancer, your overall health, your treatment, and the kind of work you do. Take some time to learn the protections you have as an employee and prepare for discussions with your employer. Also consider whether and how you might explain your treatment to co-workers. If you do take some time off for treatment, be patient as you get back up to speed when you return. You might enjoy getting back into your normal routines and being around other people.

Nearly half of people who were working when diagnosed with cancer have concerns about employment.

Working During Treatment

Some people with cancer continue to work and are able to do their jobs effectively while they get treatment. Others discover that they need to rest more or are just feeling too sick to keep up with their jobs. Federal and state laws may require that some employers allow you to work a flexible schedule. Meet with your employer about your needs and your options.

Be Prepared

Who you decide to tell at work is up to you. Don’t feel pressured to share or explain. In some cases, such as if you work in a competitive environment, it might not be in your best interest to share details with your co-workers.

  • Determine who you want to share the information with.
  • Consider starting with those you know best, as they might be able to help you develop a plan for telling others.
  • Schedule your chemotherapy treatments in the late afternoon or evening, or before the weekend, so you will have time to recover.
  • Create a list of your usual tasks so you can direct others in handling things when you are away.
  • Ask your employer if you can work from home some days.
  • Keep your employer up to date on how any schedule or other changes are working for you.

Know Your Rights

Understand the protections you have as an employee.

  • You cannot be fired for being sick so long as you fulfill all the duties required of your position.
  • You should not be asked to take a position you would not have considered before you got sick.
  • Employers need to accommodate qualified applicants or employees with disabilities, unless they can prove that doing so would be an undue hardship for the employer.
  • Keep records of discussions about your illness with your employer and copies of your job performance evaluations in case problems arise later.

Family Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid leave for specified family and medical reasons without losing their jobs. The act was designed to help employees balance their work and family responsibilities during circumstances such as child birth, adoption, and serious health conditions. FMLA lets certain employees take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year and requires that the employer maintain the employee’s group health benefits during the leave.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects the civil rights of individuals with disabilities. People with cancer might have long-term disabilities that make it difficult to get to work or do their jobs. The ADA aims to enable people who can do the essential parts of their jobs to keep working during and after cancer treatment. Even if the person with cancer does not have a disability, he or she might be thought of as being disabled, which can lead to discrimination at work.

Returning to Work

After your treatment, going back to work can help you get back into your normal routines. In addition to the income, you might enjoy the social interactions of being around other people. As you plan your return to the workplace, discuss with your employer if alternative arrangements are possible, such as working from home, flex-time, or job sharing, as you get back up to speed again.

Learn More About Employment and Cancer

The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society have additional resources to help you, including working during cancer treatment, and going back to work.

The Patient Advocate Foundation provides patients with arbitration, mediation, and negotiation to help settle issues with access to care, medical debt, and job retention related to their illness.