Cancer and Chronic Illness Causes Employment Hardships


A recent study reports working women who survive breast cancer are much more likely to lose their jobs. This poses a question for people who suffer long-term illnesses, and what happens to their job security as they struggle for treatment and recovery. Cancer and other chronic, or long-term illnesses, can cause employment hardships for Americans.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System found a significant percentage of women who were found with jobs during the start of cancer treatment were also likely to lose those jobs following the course of treatment. 30 percent of the women were found to be unemployed four years down the road. Specifically, women who underwent chemotherapy had nearly two times a higher rate of unemployment following the course of treatment.

In 2009, the New York Times published an article on Protecting Your Job While Coping With a Chronic Illness. A woman by the name of Natasha Frechette was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but continued working at Navigo Research in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. Her condition began and continued to get worse to the point it was extremely hard to make it through an hour of work.

It took several doctor visits and numerous tests to find out she had multiple sclerosis at the age of 27. This disease attacks the central nervous system and can lead to paralysis, blindness, numbness, and other debilitating conditions. MS is a chronic illness that causes hardships in employment just as cancer would, and it depends on its severity how debilitated the person becomes.

“Workers with chronic illnesses face chronic uncertainty,” is how these individuals feel. Employees who are aware of their condition often find themselves browsing employer policies for long and short-term disability plans.

The Center for Economics and Policy Research in Washington included a research study in their report. They found that among 22 rich nations, the United States was the only country that did not guarantee workers paid time off for their illnesses.

Many countries were found to provide their workers paid sick days, including time off for cancer treatments. German citizens, for instance, were allowed five sick days and 44 days of cancer treatment if needed. This was in addition to vacation days.

Many employers in the United States allow their employees to take days off for flu or other ailments without docking their pay. 41 percent offer nine days off, on average, for illnesses in addition to vacation days. This is according to a 2007 survey by Mercer. The problem remains for those within the United States with serious chronic illnesses.

Two laws exist known as the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks off for medical or family emergencies, but without pay.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable adjustments or accommodations for disabled workers, often by way of additional time off.

There is also the Rehabilitation Act that allows for formula grant programs for vocational rehabilitation, supported employment, independent living, and client assistance. It also allows for discretionary grants administered by the Rehabilitation Services Administration.

The American Cancer Society states that many people continue to work as they are being treated for cancer, and therefore are able to maintain their work. However others are given harsher treatments that could interfere with their jobs. Cancer and chronic illnesses are on the minds of many people who worry if their conditions will cause hardships in maintaining employment presently, and in the future.

By Lindsey Alexander


American Cancer Society

New York Times

CBS News

Rehabilitation Administration

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