Returning to Work: Laws You Should Know

Many cancer survivors are able to continue working through and beyond their treatment. They may miss only a few days of work or require just a temporary reduction in their work schedules. Others may have to stop working during treatment and return later. Whether you continue to work may depend on your workplace; each company has its own unique culture.

Many organizations are supportive of employees during and after treatment. For example, some employers proactively let their employees know what arrangements they can make should a cancer survivor want to continue working.

Know the Laws That Protect You in the Workplace

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. Organizations with 15 or more employees must follow ADA guidelines. To qualify for ADA protection, you must:

  • Meet the ADA definition of a “disabled person”
  • Qualify for the job and be able to perform its essential functions
  • Not pose a risk to your own or others’ health and safety
  • Not cause “undue hardship” to your employer for any accommodations you might need

People living with and beyond cancer often need flexible work hours in order to go to medical appointments. Sometimes, restructuring a job or reducing the number of hours you work may be considered reasonable, especially if you work through treatment or plan to return to the workplace after treatment ends.

If you require flextime, it is important to tell your supervisor or your human resources department about your cancer history in order to be protected under the ADA. If you don’t give any reason for frequent flextime requests, you could risk losing your job. For more information, call 1-800-514-0301 or visit the ADA website,

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA enables people dealing with a serious illness, or one of their family members, to take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks within one calendar year. The FMLA applies to organizations with 50 or more employees.

The employee must have worked with his or her employer for at least one year, and employers must continue providing health benefits during the leave. Leave does not have to be taken all at once but can be taken in blocks of time. To learn more, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s website at and search for FMLA.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

If you feel you are being treated unfairly, contact the EEOC. The EEOC is a federal agency that enforces the provisions of the ADA and FMLA and helps people who feel they have been discriminated against in the workplace. Call 1-800-669-4000 or visit