Many people with cancer can continue to work despite their illness.
Sometimes work schedules may need to be readjusted during periods of
active treatment, but there is often little reason to think that your
ability to support yourself and your family will be drastically
altered following a cancer diagnosis. If an important part of who you
are as a person is your work, it will be essential for you to continue
to be productive. Most employers are willing to accommodate valued
employees. They realize it is in the company's best interest to retain
an employee who has made a commitment to the company. Be honest with
your employer if you will need to readjust job duties or schedules
while undergoing treatment. However, you should expect that your
employer will welcome your return following treatment.
Occasionally a company will not be as understanding as you might hope.
This is due to the incorrect idea that people with cancer will not be
as productive or will miss large blocks of time from work. Studies
have shown this is not the case and that people with cancer are, in
fact, more reliable employees than the general population. If you
sense that your employer is misinformed about cancer and your ability
to work, talk to your doctor or social worker. Often they will be
willing to speak with your employer and provide accurate information
about your illness and capabilities.
If you are unable to return to your job and need to look for a new
one, the situation might become more difficult. Job application forms
typically ask about a person's health history, and employers often
fear that a person with a chronic illness will be using more health
insurance coverage than a person without such an illness. However, it
is illegal for companies to discriminate against you because of a
cancer history. The federal Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973
prohibits discrimination by any institution receiving government
funds. This includes most schools, hospitals, and colleges. In
addition, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act makes it illegal for
companies to discriminate against you because of a history of cancer.
Questions on applications or in interviews must be related to your
ability to perform the job you are applying for. Also, be aware that
you are required to have a pre-employment medical examination only if
all other applicants undergo the same examination. If you need to find
a new job and can no longer perform the kind of work you did before
your diagnosis, you may be eligible for job retraining through the
Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973. There are people and agencies
ready to help those experiencing employment difficulties because of
HOW EMPLOYMENT SERVICES CAN HELP
- Payment for physical, occupational, or speech therapy through the
Office of Vocational Rehabilitation if those services are needed for
you to perform a job.
- Vocational evaluation, counseling, and job placement if you need
to find a new type of work.
- Assistance from private employment agencies. These agencies
counsel people and help them find jobs in their chosen fields. The fee
for this service is paid for by the job applicant or by the
HOW DO YOU FIND THESE SERVICES?
- First, talk to your doctor about your employment difficulties to
be sure you are correct in assessing your potential to perform your
job. If your doctor agrees you need another kind of employment, he or
she or the hospital social worker can refer you to the Office of
- Call the Office of Employment Security or a private employment
agency if you do not need vocational rehabilitation but need help
finding a new job.
- Be sure to talk with your employer if you think your work schedule
will need to be readjusted during times of active treatment. Most
employers will be cooperative if they know what to expect from the
start. Sometimes employers will reassign patients to a less strenuous
job during the time of active treatment. Employers, under the Human
Relations Act, are obligated to make "reasonable accommodations" to
the needs of qualified employees.
- If you would like more information about job-related problems or
job discrimination, contact your American Cancer Society and ask for a
copy of "Cancer -- Your Job, Insurance and the Law." The Pennsylvania
Human Relations Commission can also give you information.
- The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS) concerns
itself with employment problems of people with cancer. Its telephone
number is 1-505-764-9956.
- If you plan to change jobs, find out how your health insurance
will be affected. You may be excluded from coverage for a certain
period of time, so it is important to know about this before you make
a decision to change jobs.
Frequently Asked Questions
National Cancer Institute