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Telling Your Employer That You Have Breast Cancer

How To Get The Most Out Of a Difficult Conversation

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Updated July 06, 2010

Telling your employer that you have breast cancer can bring on mixed emotions. You may not know how your boss will react, or how supportive they might be. Perhaps you've never told your boss anything so personal and private, and you're afraid it will change the way you are treated on the job. Take some time to learn the benefits of telling your employer about your diagnosis, and some useful questions you may need to ask. Being prepared for this conversation can boost your confidence and calm your jitters.

Benefits of Telling Your Employer About Your Cancer

Here are some good reasons to tell your boss about your diagnosis of breast cancer:

  • You will be protected from job discrimination by the ADA law if your boss is informed about your diagnosis
  • You may need extra sick time leave for cancer treatments and recovery. Your boss can connect you with your Human Resources office so you can receive additional sick leave hours and FMLA benefits.
  • Your treatment side effects may temporarily affect your job performance, so ask your boss for help or reasonable accommodations.

Prepare Yourself Before Talking To Your Boss

Before sharing this news with your employer, consider what facts they will need to know, and how much detail you are willing to share. You may know your general diagnosis, have a treatment schedule planned, and know how side effects may affect your time at work. Write those down and if you may need to ask for reasonable accommodations, note those as well. If you don't have many details yet, just gather up what you do know and prepare to be honest.

Having The Conversation About Cancer

Set a positive tone for the conversation, and your boss will take their cues from your behavior. If you are nervous, read from your prepared notes as you tell your boss about your diagnosis. Remember, if your boss asks a question about your diagnosis or treatment and you have no ready answer, it is okay to say, "I don't know yet, but I will find out and let you know." Ask that your private conversations with your boss be kept confidential. Be honest about your emotions - you don't have to hide your feelings, but try to keep your tears from taking over the conversation. Do keep notes about what you talked about, with whom, and when. File these under "Work Issues" in your health notebook.

Get The Straight Story on Sick Leave

Once you've told your boss that you have breast cancer, it's time to ask some questions and take notes. Your boss should know who is the best person to contact in the Human Resources office. You can ask for a copy of the Sick Leave Policy and instructions on how to use the Sick Leave Pool, if your employer has one. Be sure to ask how to apply for FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) hours, in case you will need them. Your employer may require some certification about your medical condition - ask what forms of certification will be needed. If finances might become a problem, ask if there are any Employee Assistance Programs available to you. Find out if there is a cancer support group in your company, and how you can get connected with it. If you've decided not to work through cancer treatment, ask if you can keep your employer's insurance benefits through the COBRA program.

Key Points About Telling Your Employer That You Have Breast Cancer

Although it may difficult, it is in your best interest to tell your boss about your cancer diagnosis. You will get job protection, extra sick leave, and reasonable accommodations to help you work during treatment for breast cancer. Prepare yourself, stay calm, and have the conversation in confidence. Keep a paper trail of all documents relating to your sick leave, medical certification, company policies, and be sure to save copies of any emails or notes that you took along the way. If you are uncertain and want professional advice about how to talk to your boss, speak with an oncology social worker, counselor, or patient advocate about work issues. Keep the lines of communication open between you and your employer. They may become one of your great supporters.

Sources:

Should I Tell My Employer? From the PDF booklet: In Treatment - Financial Guidance for Cancer Survivors and Their Families. American Cancer Society. Copyright 2008.

Taking Time: Support for People with Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Posted: 11/09/2009.

When Someone You Work With Has Cancer. What Supervisors Can Do. American Cancer Society. Last Revised: 05/10/2010.

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