Navigating Breast Cancer and Employment

 

Common Concerns:

A breast cancer diagnosis can raise a multitude of questions and concerns – not just questions about treatment and healthcare – but also legal questions about employment, insurance and income.

•    What will happen with my job?
•    How do I ask for time off to see my doctor?
•    Can my employer fire me for missing too much work?
•    If I lose my job, what will happen to my insurance benefits?
•    How will I pay my bills?

In the Breast Cancer Legal Project at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc., we often hear questions just like these from our clients. I represent clients who are navigating healthcare access issues, applying for long-term or short-term disability benefits, requesting reasonable accommodations from their employers, appealing health insurance coverage denials, applying for Social Security disability benefits and facing disability discrimination. This article is intended to provide you with general information, not legal advice tailored to your unique situation. It is always best to consult with an attorney about your specific employment or insurance questions before taking any action, but finding an attorney to answer your questions when your income is limited is often a challenge. This article is intended to bring you some comfort in knowing that you are not alone in your concerns and that there are resources and organizations out there to help.

Can my employer fire me for missing too much work?

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that can provide up to 12 work weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period to eligible employees who need to take time off work due to a serious health condition or to care for an immediate family member with a serious health condition. The FMLA does not apply to all employers and employees. To find out whether the FMLA may apply to you or your employer, you can find some general information at these websites:

•    U.S. Department of Labor: http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/#.UHndCLQ1b8s
•    Workplace Fairness: www.workplacefairness.org
•    Cancer and Careers: www.cancerandcareers.org

If I lose my job, what will happen to my insurance benefits?

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is a federal law that gives workers and their families who lose their health insurance benefits the right to choose to continue group health insurance benefits for a limited time under certain circumstances, such as job loss, reduction in hours worked, death, divorce and other life events. To find out more about COBRA, you can visit this website:

•    U.S. Department of Labor: http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/health-plans/cobra.htm#doltopics

What will happen with my job, and how do I ask for time off to see my doctor?  

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that protects “qualified individuals with disabilities” from employment discrimination by qualified employers. Under the ADA, an individual can request a “reasonable accommodation,” such as amodification or adjustment in job responsibilities, schedule or work environment, from a qualified employer.  You can find further information on how the ADA might protect someone with a cancer diagnosis at these websites:

•    U.S. Department of Justice: www.ada.gov
•    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/cancer.html
•    For information on requesting a “reasonable accommodation,” you can visit the Job Accommodation Network site at www.jan.wvu.edu.

The Breast Cancer Legal Project (BCLP) and other cancer legal services:

BCLP was created in 2005 to provide cancer-related legal services to low-income breast cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers in metro-Atlanta. We work closely with social workers, healthcare providers and advocates from other nonprofit organizations to identify and resolve the legal issues that negatively impact our clients’ quality of life and impede their ability to focus on survival, treatment and wellness.

Although we specifically serve low-income individuals in the metro-Atlanta area, there are resources available to provide support and guidance to people living with or surviving cancer across the country.

•    The National Cancer Legal Services Network (NCLSN) has a nationwide, online directory of cancer legal services programs. NCLSN “promotes the increased availability of free legal services programs so that people affected by cancer may focus on medical care and their quality of life.”  www.nclsn.org.

•    The Cancer Legal Resource Center (CLRC), a national, joint program of the Disability Rights Legal Center and Loyola Law School Los Angeles, “provides free information and resources on cancer-related legal issues to cancer survivors, caregivers, health care professionals, employers, and others coping with cancer.”  www.cancerlegalresourcecenter.org. They also have state-specific information available online and a national, toll-free Telephone Assistance Line (866-THE-CLRC) that individuals can call.

It is both comforting and empowering to be armed with information about your rights. In the Breast Cancer Legal Project, we know that helping our clients navigate the legal challenges that a cancer diagnosis can bring is essential to encouraging peace of mind and maintaining quality of life.

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