Disclosure in the workplace remains a common topic for cancer patients and survivors who are navigating working during or after treatment, though it is not limited to just those with a diagnosis. There are various factors to take into consideration as one makes decisions around sharing personal health information of any kind, including if they should tell, who they should tell, and how much or what to tell.
A recent submission to The Cut’s “Ask a Boss” online forum asks the question: should I disclose my depression to my employer? While their concern is obviously not regarding a cancer diagnosis, the considerations and approaches are relevant and can extend to cancer patients and survivors grappling with the same questions. The writer explains their worries around disclosing in that it would make them a less valuable employee, prevent employment opportunities at all, pose a discrimination threat, or even what might arise if they chose not to disclose until after being hired. These are all valid concerns that should be taken into account.
To address these concerns, it’s important to look at each piece individually:
What is the reason for sharing the information? Is there a specific accommodation you believe you will need in order to fulfill the responsibilities of your job? If so, the next aspect to work out is how much information is necessary to share with your employer. For example, if you are dealing with neuropathy, could it suffice to share that you experience this symptom without sharing that it is caused by treatment for cancer? Ask yourself why you need to share and it can lead you to answering how much you need to share.
What is your relationship with your employer? If you have a close personal relationship with your manager, you might feel more inclined to share this information with them so they can have a better understanding around your current functioning. This could lead to conversations around how they can best support you to continue doing your job. If you don’t have a good relationship with your manager, or you don’t know them that well, think about how this would impact the relationship and/or if there is someone else to talk to, HR for instance.
What do you know about your needs? We at CAC often hear from survivors who feel an obligation to share the information about their diagnosis right away, sometimes when they themselves don’t have all the details around their diagnosis and treatment plan. It’s a good idea to have conversations with your healthcare team before disclosing to your employer, so that you can share with them a clearer picture about what you are anticipating. For example, approaching your employer with the information that you are scheduled for a surgery in two weeks and chemo weekly for three months after that, will provide them a better idea of what things will look like rather than telling them you have a diagnosis, and you don’t know what your next few months will look like. Having more information for yourself prior to disclosing can allow you the ability to work out a practical plan for moving forward.
What protections are in place for employees at your workplace? It’s a good idea to do some research regarding your company’s policies and protections. Are you covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act? Have you been at your job long enough to be eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act? Again, approaching these situations after educating yourself on options can make the process a little easier and insure that you are able to access the protections available to you.
Cancer and Careers has several resources available addressing the topic of disclosure and the associated concerns surrounding whether or not to share information with your employer:
- Take a look at the recording of our Balancing Work & Cancer webinar on Disclosure, Privacy & Online Brand for information about approaching disclosure, understanding your options, and more.
- Articles on Your Legal Rights in the Workplace and Requesting Reasonable Accommodations can help you to better understand your options and how and what to ask for, should you need accommodations at work.
- If you’ve decided to disclose to your boss but you’re not sure what the next steps are, check out our Managers Kit – a packet you can provide to your boss to help along the conversation so they understand your needs and how to best provide you support.
- Perhaps you are not currently employed but are worried about how your diagnosis will impact your job search? Take a look at our article on Managing Disclosure When Looking for a Job for ways to approach the phases of the job search (applications, cover letters, and interviews) while keeping the disclosure piece in mind.
If you are still finding the disclosure piece challenging or you would like to further discuss your plan, feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for further guidance.