How To Tell Your Employer About Your Cancer Diagnosis
A cancer diagnosis can overwhelm all aspects of your life. We experience different stages of grieving in our attempt to return to normalcy. One area of concern that might need to be addressed is your employment. I wondered if I could safely return to my teaching position while I was undergoing chemotherapy. What would be the impact of the therapy? Could I take time off for medical appointments and therapy? Would I experience side effects? How could I manage my work commitments?
It may feel uncomfortable sharing such personal news of your cancer with your employer. However, there is legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, which may protect you from discrimination after your employer is made aware of your diagnosis. Your Human Resource department may be able to assist with sick time and provide information on other legislation such as the Family Medical Leave Act, also known as FMLA.1
During treatment, you may need reasonable accommodations. I tried to return to work during chemotherapy but experienced incapacitating fatigue. This required me to take a leave of absence.
The following are suggestions that helped me to deal with the need to talk with my employer.
Be sure to prepare!
Talk candidly with your physician explaining your daily work routine. Ask how treatment and associated side effects may affect your ability to meet work expectations. Determine how much time will be required for treatment and diagnostics. Your physician can advise if special work adjustments may be needed. This could include taking time off or a change in work hours.
Speak directly with your employer at a suitable time and setting. Your employer should not hear about your illness through the grapevine.
Consider taking notes
To be cautious, record the date, time, and substance of your conversation with your employer and the Human Resource department. You may want to obtain a copy of your sick leave policy. If unable to work during your cancer treatment, talk with the Human Resource department if insurance benefits can be maintained through COBRA coverage.
In my situation, my responsibilities included clinical care of patients assigned to my nursing students and evening hours. After my chemotherapy sessions were completed and the incapacitating fatigue improved, I was able to return to teaching with modified work hours.
Sharing your diagnosis with others is a personal decision
Consider sharing your cancer diagnosis with a co-worker. It is important to have a support person who can be helpful and reassuring. At first, I had hoped to manage work without sharing my cancer diagnosis. However, my colleague noticed my fatigue and was most helpful. Sharing the details of your cancer diagnosis is a personal decision. `
Dealing with your employment is one of the many challenges facing someone living with cancer. Clear communication of your needs and concerns with your employer can assist in a mutually agreeable approach to a healthy and effective work environment.