A woman sits at a desk with paper work thinking about a conversation with her boss

Working With Cancer & How Employers Play Games

Lately, I have been seeing talk about working with cancer. It’s something more than a few of us try to do, and for some of us it’s a must-do in order to keep our insurance and pay those blood cancer bills.

Struggles with employers

The thing is that employers aren’t always the best version of humans when it comes to dealing with people who are ill long-term, and that results in some awkward work situations. Well, today we will talk about some of them and what you can do.

Now, when I say working with cancer, I’m not talking about working together with your cancer to make a more sicker you. No, I’m talking about going to a job or working a job from home while you are living with cancer and receiving treatment for it.

More of us do that than people realize, now that chemo isn’t as bad as it was in the olden days and now that anti-nausea drugs have reached a point where they actually work. So, more and more of us are staying at the office and in many cases not even making a point of our having cancer shared to our bosses and others at work. Still, though, they always seem to find out, don’t they?

When the boss finds out about your cancer

What do you do then if your job finds out you have cancer and starts to treat you differently? Well, the first thing you can do in some states (Like New York), is check and see if there are programs and protections for people in your situation. In NY there is the FMLA, the Family and Medical Leave Act, which not only will protect your job if you leave for cancer treatment (among others), it will also allow a spouse or relative to take a protected leave from work and get a small stipend from the state to cover lost income.

Here is a decent PDF that covers what state has what: https://bipartisanpolicy.org/download/?file=/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/State-Paid-Family-Leave-Laws-Across-the-US.pdf

The Americans With Disabilities Act applies to cancer

Also, federally, there is the Americans with Disabilities act. It does apply to people with cancer in many situations, and you can read about it more in depth here: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/financial-insurance-matters/health-insurance-laws/americans-with-disabilities-act.html It can help to guide you on how to deal with your employer and make decisions that will assist you in keeping your insurance and job while trying to treat the cancer that is eating you from the inside.

There are often still problems at the job

Now, look, I live in the real world and so do you so no matter what these wonderful laws and statutes say we all know that if those above us decide they want to get rid of us they will concoct a way to do it. I know that might be disheartening to hear but I’m hoping that if you understand the ways management can do that it may help you battle against it.

Paper trails of poor performance

The first way that your job may try to circumvent the laws protecting cancer patients is by creating a paper trail of job-non-performance. If they can produce documentation of you not doing your job or doing your job poorly for long enough, they won’t be held accountable if you take them to task for breaking the ADA or state laws.

I have seen it happen many times and it can be something as silly as being late for work due to your chemo infusion running late. It is counter-intuitive, but it may be better just to take the whole day off when you have any doctor’s appointments instead of going in late. You’ll know if your employer is doing this because in most jobs you have to be warned when your performance decreases in order to eventually terminate you so keep an eye out for that “we need to have a Zoom meeting” email.

Health plan reductions

Another way employers like to push out people who are sick is by futzing around with the health insurance. This is especially prevalent in small offices where only one person is really sick. They might “decide” that this coming year they can no longer afford that good health insurance plan and they aren’t going to offer a comprehensive option any longer.

Now all you will be able to get is the plan where you must bring your own band-aids to the hospital and you get placed on a VNIP (Very Not Important Person) list when you go to the ER or they won’t pay. Also, you might suddenly start getting tons of flak from HR about your health insurance claims and submissions when that never happened before, making an already stressful situation worse. They are hoping you will just give up and find work elsewhere.

Changing your job description

Finally, employers may completely change your job description and/or duties to things that you will have a much more difficult time completing. This happened to me right before I decided to go on disability. They knew my chronic RA was not in a good place so they changed my job from answering phones to basically an administrative assistant which included running all over the place all day and being on call 24/7. I had no choice but to quit.

Hopefully this information will help those of you having issues with your employer. It may not save your job but it just might be enough to help you figure out what your next move is going to be before they let you go. I wish the world was a place where everyone had compassion but that isn’t how it is. We have to fight for ourselves. Talk soon.

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