Your Job, Your Rights: Working During Cancer Treatment

After you have learned all about your new diagnosis and what the treatment will entail, you will have a better idea how it will effect your ability to perform your job. Many women can continue to work without a problem, others find they cannot cope with cancer treatment and work at the same time.

If you have to undergo chemotherapy, there will be days where you will miss work. Generally, it is a good idea to schedule your infusions on a Thursday afternoon so you can recover on Friday and the weekend and return to work on Monday. Since the effects of chemo are cumulative, towards the end of your treatment, you will be more fatigued, and may need an extra day to recover.

Most chemotherapy schedules are once every two or three weeks and last between four to six months. With this in mind, you can expect to miss about twelve days or so. When spread out over the course of almost a half a year, and keeping in mind that you are undergoing treatment for cancer, most employers will be understanding. However, that is not always the case.

Some employers find an excuse to fire you ("lay you off") or eliminate ("downsize") your job. They will use this language because it is the only way they can get around the law that actually protects you from such unscrupulous practices: The Americans with Disabilities Act. Cancer patients are protected by this, but you have to be well versed in its nuances and have all your ducks in a row before you tell your employer about your new diagnosis.
Before you tell your employer, obtain a copy of the company's workplace guidelines and study it. Find the section that applies to disabilities and illness. Know their policy as well as they do before you go in. Contact the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and find out how you are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
They will help guide you, particularly if you have the employment guidelines information ready with answers to their questions.

When you do finally explain the situation to your employer, do not apologize for your illness. You did not choose to have this disease and it could very easily have been your boss with the diagnosis, and not you. Be professional, prepared, and have your facts. Tell your employer what your treatment schedule will be, how many days off you may require, and inform them that you will endeavor to continue to work at the same level you are now and this is a temporary situation and not a permanent one.

If you find you are having trouble beyond where the EEOC can help you, contact Workplace Fairness, at This not-for-profit organization will assist you with your rights in the workplace and descrimination.

If you need free legal advice, LAWHELP is an organization that can provide you with the location of low cost or free legal assistance in your state. Other legal assistance can be found for a nominal fee by contacting your state or county’s Bar Association, where they have lawyers who are assigned by the court to help you for little to no cost.

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