Be the Boss Over Cancer

On our recent Ask The Experts calls with our career coach Julie Jansen and legal expert Joanna Morales, Esq., we received a variety of questions from patients and healthcare professionals. However, the most common theme on both calls was: "Do I have to divulge my cancer diagnosis to a new employer?"  The responses are below.

And don't forget to register for our next duo of Ask The Experts calls on May 17th and 24th where you can ask questions and get answers from Julie and Joanna!  More info on those is here: http://www.cancerandcareers.org/en/community/events/ask-the-experts

Julie (Career Coach): This question is probably one of the most common questions that we get at Cancer and Careers related to job search.

It really has to do with you, your situation, how you feel about it, whether or not you are going to be continuing treatment, what your level of stamina and energy is. Usually there is an issue related to gaps on one's resume, so a potential employer might say, "Hey, I see, that you didn't work between this year and this year, why?" And that's where most people who have been diagnosed with cancer get very nervous and uncomfortable. So what I suggest is you really practice a very brief phrase or sentence that responds to that particular question, and you're very consistent in relaying that, and it can range from: I had a medical situation that now is resolved or I had a family situation or I just opted to leave my job for a while and now I'm really excited about reentering, and then very quickly focusing your energy and your answers toward what you can help the potential new employer accomplish. But again, everybody is different and you have to respond in a way that's very comfortable for you.

Joanna (Legal Expert): Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, and a few other laws, a patient is never required to disclose anything about their health or their medical conditions to a potential employer or an existing employer unless someone is asking for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA or a state fair employment law or asking for some type of medical leave. Under both of those circumstances you have to be able to justify why you’re entitled to those things and to be able to share information about your medical condition. But it doesn’t even necessarily require that you always disclose a diagnosis, just that you have a medical condition that is keeping you from being able to do your job for a certain period of time.

An employer can’t ask, “Do you have any medical conditions? Have you ever had cancer?” But they can’t even ask questions that might indicate that you have a particular medical condition like, “How much sick time did you take at your last job,” or “Have you ever taken Family and Medical Leave,” because those things might indicate that you have a medical condition or that someone else in your family has a medical condition that you would need to care for. So they are only allowed to ask, “Can you perform the essential functions of the job".  If you have a visible disability, for example if you utilize a wheelchair or you have a vision impairment, they can’t ask additional questions about that medical condition except to say, “Can you perform the essential functions of the job?” And if your answer is yes, they have to accept that.

Note: This blog is designed to provide general information on the topics presented. It is provided with the understanding that the author is not engaged in rendering any legal or professional services by its publication or distribution. Although these materials were reviewed by a professional, they should not be used as a substitute for professional services.

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