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For some cancer survivors, looking for a new job or reentering the job market can be a challenging experience. However, unless you have physical or mental disabilities that limit the type of work you are planning to perform, your cancer history should not affect your ability to get a job. If you are qualified for a job, an employer cannot refuse to hire you simply because you have a history of cancer.
Most employers treat cancer survivors fairly and legally. However, some cancer survivors report experiencing discrimination when looking for a job. Cancer-related discrimination usually stems from an employer's misunderstanding of cancer and its treatments, beliefs in myths or stereotypes about cancer, or incorrect assumptions about what cancer survivors can or cannot do on the job. Cancer survivors are protected by both state and federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act. Learn the basics of these laws and how they can help protect you if you experience discrimination in the workplace.
Deciding what information to share
Cancer, cancer treatment, or late effects (side effects that occur several years after a cancer diagnosis as a result of treatment) may affect a person's ability to perform the duties of a specific job. Some survivors choose to disclose their medical history with their employer while others do not. This remains a personal decision. Read tips on sharing about your cancer experience when going back to work after cancer.
During the interview process and while employed, an employer, by law, cannot ask questions about your health or about a medical condition, such as whether you have had cancer. If you choose to tell a potential employer about your cancer history, the employer is not allowed, by law, to ask you any questions about the cancer, the treatment you received, or the prognosis (chance of recovery). The employer also must keep any information you disclose about your history of cancer or any medical information confidential. An employer can ask questions that pertain to the specific duties and performance of the job, such as whether you can lift up to 50 pounds or travel for work.
During the interview process, some cancer survivors worry about how they will explain gaps in their resumes or departures from positions held before their cancer diagnosis or treatment. If you are concerned about explaining gaps in employment, it may be helpful to talk with a career counselor or social worker; he or she can teach you interviewing skills and can help you organize your resume by experience and skills, instead of by date. If you do decide to disclose your cancer history, you may find it helpful to provide the potential employer with a letter from your doctor that explains your current health status and ability to work.
Requesting reasonable accommodations
Sometimes, cancer survivors have limitations caused by the cancer itself, the side effects or late effects of cancer treatment, or both. These limitations may include conditions such as fatigue, chronic pain, cognitive difficulties, and others. These types of physical or mental limitations are considered disabilities under the ADA.
If a person is qualified to do his or her job, employers must make adjustments for employees with disabilities to allow them to perform the essential functions of their job. These adjustments are called “reasonable accommodations.”
Reasonable accommodations vary from person to person. Examples of reasonable accommodations may include adjusted work hours, permission to work from home, reassignment to a another position, leave time for doctor visits, and periodic work breaks to take medications and contact members of your health care team.
If you know that you will need an accommodation for a specific job, you do not have to make the request during the interview process; you can request an accommodation at any time during your employment. A request for a reasonable accommodation can also be made on your behalf by someone else, such as a medical professional, family member, or friend.
An employer may request documentation that verifies your disability before granting a reasonable accommodation. However, employers are not permitted to ask for your medical record. An employer may deny a request if the accommodation would cause an “undue hardship,” if it would be too difficult or expensive to implement, for instance. However, an employer must determine if there is an easier or less costly accommodation that can be made to meet your needs.
Insurance concerns when job searching
It is important for cancer survivors to have dependable health insurance. Some, but not all, employers offer group health insurance. If you are considering a job that includes the benefit of group insurance, you have rights under federal and state laws:
- You cannot be refused health insurance under your employer's health plan because you are a cancer survivor.
- Some group health plans, however, will temporarily exclude coverage related to a prior health condition, such as cancer. This is called a pre-existing condition exclusion period. Group health plans cannot exclude coverage for a pre-existing condition for more than 12 months.
- If you have recently left a job that offered group health insurance, consider keeping the insurance by signing up for coverage under COBRA (The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act). COBRA gives you the right to temporarily keep and pay the full cost of your group health insurance benefits if you reduce your hours, quit your job, or lose your job. The length of time you can keep COBRA coverage depends on the individual circumstances. If you leave a job, you must sign up for COBRA within 63 days of leaving.
Coping with emotional concerns when job searching
Job searching can be a stressful and discouraging experience for all types of job seekers, especially in a tough economic climate. Therefore, it is important to take care of your emotional needs during this time. Stress-reducing activities, such as exercising or participating in favorite hobbies, can help clear your mind and keep you motivated towards your goals.
Some job seekers also find encouragement in support groups, connecting with others looking for work. People sometimes find job leads in these groups, along with suggestions and tips on networking with potential employers. In addition, books and career counselors can provide guidance on how to network effectively. Taking such proactive steps can boost your self-esteem and outlook for employment.
Last Updated: May 24, 2010