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Cancer and Your Career

Know Your Rights


A diagnosis of cancer is devastating. While your primary concern should be about getting proper treatment and healing, unfortunately you will have to deal with some issues related to your career.

You will have to decide whether to take time off from work during the course of your treatment. Some people choose to devote all their energy to healing, while others find that working provides a good distraction. Of course, it all depends on how you're feeling. If you decide to take time off during the course of your treatment, remember that the Family and Medical Leave Act (U.S.) allows most workers 12 weeks of leave each year, due to, among other things, a serious illness. You cannot lose your job because of your absence. An employee need not take the leave all at once. If necessary he or she may take leave in weeks, days, or even hours. This leave can even include a shortened work week. The FMLA does not provide for paid leave. However, you may be covered by private disability insurance, which will allow you to be paid during your absence from work. If you need to be out of work for at least a year, you may be eligible for the disability benefits program that is administered by the United States Social Security Administration (SSA).

Whether or not you choose to disclose your illness to your employer is up to you. If you decide to take time off from work, according to the Family and Medical Leave Act, you do not have to disclose the nature of your illness to your employer. However, you may need to provide certification confirming that a serious health condition exists.

You cannot be discriminated against because of your illness. Most employees are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Cancer is considered a disability for the purposes of this law. This means that your employer can't treat you any differently than other employees of the company and must make reasonable accommodations if necessary.

While most employers will be sympathetic to their workers' needs, there are some who are more concerned with their bottom line and how their employee's illness will affect it. You need to protect your rights. The following resources can help you find out how to make sure your rights are protected:

Job Accommodation Network
This free consulting service provides information about the ADA, the employability of people with disabilities, and job accommodations. In addition to their Web site, JAN can also be reached by calling 1-(800) 526-7234.

Cancer and Careers
This is a wonderful resource for women with cancer, their employers, and their co-workers and caregivers.

Patient Advocate Foundation
This national non-profit organization helps patients resolve problems with their insurers, employers, and creditors.

Disability Rights Legal Center
The Disability Rights Legal Center provides legal services to those facing discrimination due to disabilities.

More Cancer Support

The American Cancer Society
Cancer patients, survivors, family, and friends, or anyone who wants to learn more about cancer can visit this Web site for a wealth of information. Information and referrals can also be obtained by calling 1-(800) ACS-2345 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Cancer Care
The mission of this non-profit organization, according to their Web site, "is to provide free professional help to people with all cancers through counseling, education, information and referral and direct financial assistance."

Cancer Information Service This national information and education network, is a free public service of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Get help on their Web site or call 1-(800) 4-CANCER.

Women with breast or ovarian cancer, and their families and friends can get peer-led support through this non-profit organization. Call their hotline at 1-(866) 891-2392.

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