Talking to Your Employer

22375571Head and neck cancer patients may be unsure of when and how to tell an employer about a cancer diagnosis. It may not be necessary to involve your employer at all. Since cancer and cancer treatments have a variety of side effects that are hard to predict, it’s difficult to know how your work may be affected and how much time you may need off. Your cancer care team can help give you some idea about how other patients with similar treatments have handled this.

It may reassure you and your employer to know that research shows that when cancer survivors return to work, they are as productive on the job as other workers. If want to continue working during your treatment and recovery but your employer is concerned that you will not be able to keep up with your job, see if you can work out an arrangement that allows for flexible hours or a temporary part-time schedule. Continuing to work, even part time, during your treatment may help you to feel you still play a meaningful role at your company. Returning to work when your treatment is completed helps you feel that you are regaining your life before cancer. If your career is a big part of your identity, it can be an emotional relief to resume that role.

Many families experience financial difficulties as a result of medical expenses and lost income associated with a cancer diagnosis in the family. About 20 percent of caregivers quit their jobs or cut back their hours significantly to care for their loved ones. They also spend an average of $5,500 per year out of their own pockets for caregiving-related expenses. If your primary caregiver is struggling financially and you are not working, then money issues may quickly become a major source of distress for both of you and for the entire family. If you can work at all, it may help you to feel productive and keep the family budget afloat at the same time.

Tips for talking to your employer

Some tips for telling your employer about your cancer include:

  • Have a Good Understanding of Your Treatment Plan You’ll likely need some time off work to recover from surgery and other treatments. Knowing more about your treatment plan will help you explain to your employer how your work schedule may be affected.
  • Make a List of Work-Related Changes You May Need Employers are legally required to help you do your job during or after cancer treatment by providing reasonable accommodations, such as an adjusted work schedule or time off for doctor’s appointments.
  • Keep Communication Records Employers are usually very supportive of employees going through cancer treatment, but this is not always the case. It’s a good idea to keep a record of discussions you have with your boss or your human resources team, such as work reviews, emails and accommodation requests. These can be helpful if you need to take legal action to uphold your workplace rights.
  • Know Your Rights It’s important to realize that as long as you’re able to perform your job duties, you cannot be fired for being sick. You should also not have to accept a position you never would have considered before your illness. If you seek a job with a different company, you are not obligated to tell them about your history of cancer. You are protected by federal laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a helpful Questions and Answers page about cancer in the workplace and the ADA that may help you to understand your rights.