Survivorship Center: Employment

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Baseball legend Joe Torre talks about surviving prostate cancer after his diagnosis and treatment.

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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. Below are answers to questions that can help you navigate reentry into the workforce.

Am I obligated to tell my employer about my cancer diagnosis or medical history — in my current job or a future one?

In short, the answer is no. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) an employer is prohibited from asking you about your medical history. In addition, you are not required to disclose any medical information or history to your employer. However, there may be circumstances in which it could be helpful to tell your employer about your cancer history — for instance, if you are in need of any special accommodations at work, such as a flexible schedule for follow-up appointments. In this case your employer is legally obligated to provide “reasonable accommodations” to make your work life as comfortable and manageable as possible while attending to your medical needs. Many survivors tell us that they fear discrimination if they speak up about their cancer history. This is understandable. However, if the employer is not aware of your cancer history, they are not obliged to make any reasonable accommodations.

How do I explain to a new employer if there is a gap in my resume as a result of undergoing cancer treatments?

There are a number of ways to address gaps in your resume due to your cancer experience. First, you can avoid the standard resume format and consider using a “functional” resume format, rather than a chronological one. A functional resume is organized in terms of listing job skills and qualifications, rather than the details of all your former positions. This will eliminate the time gap that would be seen in the chronological resume format. Alternatively, highlight other activities that might have been going on as you were undergoing treatments for cancer such as rearing children, caring for a sick family member, going to school for a degree, starting your own blog, or pursing additional training. It is never advisable to lie. While you are not obliged to disclose your cancer diagnosis or any treatment you've had, it is important to have an answer prepared so that the interviewer has some idea of what you were doing during that time period.

Are there any laws protecting my rights if I feel I am being discriminated against at work?

Yes. As a cancer survivor you are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This law protects individuals with disabilities, including cancer survivors, from being discriminated against in the workplace. Under the ADA, a person with a disability is still considered qualified for a job if he or she can perform the job functions with reasonable accommodations. “Reasonable accommodations” means that your employer must provide adequate scheduling, working conditions, etc., as long as these accommodations do not cause undue hardship on the company. The ADA defines undue hardship as “significant difficulty or expense” and focuses on the resources and circumstances of the particular employer in relationship to the cost or difficulty of providing a specific accommodation. You have rights in the workplace, and if you do feel you are being discriminated against due to your cancer history, you can seek the appropriate help, either through a social worker or legal agency.

Resources

The following is a list of resources survivors can use to find out more about employment-related issues.