How to tell your boss you have cancer

Caregiver & Patient Support

August 18, 2017

Being diagnosed with cancer is life changing. Often one of the most challenging first steps is to determine who to tell and how to tell them. Especially difficult is the decision to share or not to share your cancer diagnosis with your employer. If you decide to tell your boss, here are a few tips to help you navigate the process.

Learn more about your diagnosis and treatment plan. Take an active role in your treatment plan. The first step is to talk to your doctor and your care team. Be honest about what you do and what is expected of you at work. Learn more about your treatment plan and timeline — when and if you need to have surgery if you are going to have treatment following surgery and what to expect during recovery. It also might be helpful to talk to someone else diagnosed with cancer who has experienced a similar treatment plan.

Carefully consider how your treatment plan may affect your daily work routine. Now that you have an idea of what to expect, it will be easier to talk to your boss. Think about if you’ll need scheduled time off for surgery, treatment or recovery. It’s much easier to plan ahead for needed time off.

Share your news. Set aside time to meet with your boss privately. Only share details you are comfortable sharing.  While telling your employer that you have cancer is a good idea, it’s completely up to you if you tell your co-workers. Do what makes you feel most comfortable. Just remember it may be difficult to keep it private if you are gone for long periods of time or your appearance changes.

Know your rights. If you are worried about facing discrimination, learn more about the federal law that protects you. By law, employers are required to make accommodations — whether a flexible work schedule to accommodate treatments or perhaps working from home. Use your HR department as a resource — they can help you maximize your benefits.

Keep accurate records. Most employers are supportive, but it’s still a good idea to keep an accurate account of time off, adjustments made to accommodate your treatment plan or discussions with your employer. Make copies of job performance reviews and relevant emails. This information can be helpful if you face workplace discrimination.

Sharing your cancer diagnosis with your employer can be difficult, but necessary to keep your job and health insurance intact. Even more importantly, studies have shown a familiar routine can positively impact the healing process.