Any time you go back to work after a long time away, it can lead to mixed emotions—especially after an illness. One of those emotions shouldn’t be worrying that your health history could be used against you. Whether you’re returning to your current job or looking for a new one, remember that there are laws in place to protect you.
When you’re returning to work
When you go back to work, you might find that you don’t have the stamina to take on a full workload right away or that you have other special needs. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you can ask your employer to make reasonable accommodations for you.
Before your return, you might find it helpful to:
- Contact your human resources (HR) department and talk to your supervisor, shop steward or union representative.
- Talk about any special needs and ask for any changes that would make it easier for you to keep your job (e.g., flex time, regularly scheduled breaks, working from home or special equipment).
- Work out clear expectations about your schedule and work load.
- Keep a record of each request and the response.
- Talk to your HR department about your health insurance benefits. There are laws, including HIPAA and COBRA, which protect your benefits if you had health insurance before your leave.
With her doctor’s permission, Megan went back to work 6 months after transplant. She was eager to get back to work because she felt like she was missing out. But looking back, she realizes she should have taken things a little slower.
“My advice is to take your time,” says Megan. “I learned that it is okay to work your way back into it and you’re probably putting more pressure on yourself to get back to normal than your company will expect of you. Make sure you are ready mentally and physically to endure all that needs to be done in a day’s work. Try to maintain an efficient work/life balance because after what you went through, you deserve to be happy, healthy and do what you love.”
If you get Social Security disability benefits, there are resources to help you get back to work, like a trial work period. A trial work period lets you test your ability to work and still get Social Security benefits for up to 9 months. You can learn more about a trial work period on the Social Security Administration website or call (800) 772-1213. Also, check with your long-term disability provider through your work. They may have more services for you, like help planning your return to work or financial support as you gradually work more hours.
Searching for a new job
If you decide to look for a new job after transplant, even years down the road, you don’t have to tell your potential employer about your health history unless you choose to do so. And companies can’t ask about it, either.
“You do not have to disclose anything about your medical history and by law they’re not allowed to ask you anything about your medical situation,” says Nancy Boyle, MSW, LCSW, a transplant social worker at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. “If you’re in an interview, know that your work history and your abilities are the things that are the most important to emphasize.”
However, if you had a gap in your employment, a potential employer might ask you to explain it. CancerAndCareers.org offers tips for explaining your resume gap. The tips are useful for any transplant recipient, whether or not your transplant was for a blood cancer.
Although you’re not required to talk about your health history, some transplant recipients choose to do so.
“There’s a definite gap in my employment history, so to me it wasn’t an option to not bring it up. If they didn’t want to hire me because of that, it’s probably not a place where I would have wanted to work,” says Matt, a transplant recipient. “When I was interviewing for jobs and I brought up that I’d had cancer, I think the reaction was positive. I think that it was something that showed that I’d gone through tough times and was resilient.”
“I completely disclosed my medical history during my interview,” says Kathy, a transplant recipient. “I know that is not required, but I did. Because I had done so, my new employer understood that I had many doctor appointments and would have to adjust my schedule to meet my needs.”
Be The Match® can help you find resources to help with the transition back to work or looking for a new job after transplant. Contact our patient services coordinators at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1 (888) 999-6743.
The following resources can also help you understand your rights about going to back to work, disclosing health information and easing your transition back into the workforce: