Taking FMLA Leave During the Holidays

The Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 FMLA-During-Holidaysweeks of unpaid, job-protected leave, per year.  How this 12 weeks of time off gets counted by employers is a frequent question that we receive.  Figuring this out can be especially confusing if your FMLA leave takes place over the holiday season, where there are usually a number of paid company holidays. So, when trying to calculate your time off when taking FMLA leave during the holidays, this is how it breaks down:

  • If your company pays for 1 day of a company holiday (like Thanksgiving, for example), but you take the other 4 days off during that week as well, the entire week (5 days) would count towards your 12 weeks of FMLA leave.
  • However, if you work at least 1 day that week, your paid company holiday will not count towards your FMLA leave. For example, if you work Monday but then take the rest of the week off (which includes 1 day of a paid company holiday on Thursday), then only Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday will count against your FMLA leave.
  • If your company shuts down for 1 or more weeks (e.g., the week between Christmas and New Year’s), that time will not be counted against your FMLA.

Knowing how paid holidays interact with the FMLA is the best way to ensure you make the most of your FMLA leave. For more information on the FMLA, including who is an “eligible employee” and how the FMLA works with other benefits, visit our website and read our FMLA Quick Guides. And, we hope that you have a happy and healthy holiday season!

Volunteering While on FMLA – Risking Your Job?

We often get questions about what an individual is allowed to do while on leave under Volunteering-on-FMLAthe FMLA. For example, can you engage in contract work, work a second job, or volunteer on FMLA leave? Like many issues around work and cancer, there isn’t a one-size fits all answer.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows eligible employees to take time off from work, for up to 12 weeks, because their own serious medical condition prevents them from working, or to act as a caregiver for a seriously ill spouse, child, or parent.

To be eligible for FMLA leave, individuals must have worked at their place of employment for a minimum of 12 months, and worked over 1,250 hours, in the last 12 months. Also, private employers must have more than 50 employees in order to be covered by the FMLA. For more information about the FMLA, take a look at our Quick Guide.

The FMLA does not expressly prohibit individuals from working another job while on FMLA leave (sometimes referred to as moonlighting, but we also know that many people regularly work more than one job). “Employers with established policies regarding outside employment while on paid or unpaid leave may uniformly apply those policies to employees on FMLA leave. Otherwise, the employer may not restrict your activities.” Keep in mind, some states may have laws that might impact an employee’s ability to work other jobs while on leave.

If you are taking time off under the FMLA because a medical condition keeps you from working, and you chose to volunteer or work another job while on FMLA, and your employer finds out, they are allowed to ask questions regarding your responsibilities and your ability to work. Employers may question your responsibilities at you other job, to ensure that they are not similar to what you do while working for them. Therefore, it may be in your best interest to check with your employer about their policies around working another job or volunteering while out on FMLA leave.

For more information, visit https://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/1421.htm.

How Does Using Paid Time Off Impact an SSDI Application?

If you are applying for Social Security Disability Insurance (SDDI), you may wonder if you have to stop working before you apply. You may also wonder if you are allowed to use your sick time, vacation time, or some other paid time off.

The first thing that the Social Security Administration (SSA) looks at when determining if you meet their definition of having a disability, is whether you are currently working. SSA believes that if you are working, then you are able to work and do not have a disability. But there is a big difference from working 40 hours a month as a receptionist and working 160 hours a month as an attorney. Each year, the SSA establishes a dollar threshold amount, and if you make under that amount, you are not considered to be working, according to SSA. This threshold is called Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA).

In 2017, the SGA is $1,170 per month for individuals with a disability other than blindness. If you make more than the SGA, you will not qualify for SSDI and your claim will be denied. The SGA for blind applicants is $1,950 per month. These amounts are your gross earnings.

When determining your income, the SSA will only look at earnings derived from actual work activity in the month under consideration.  That means that sick days, vacation days, or other paid time off will not be considered.

So, if you worked 5 days in a month, and then took 15 sick days, only the 5 days of work will count towards the SGA threshold. If you work 2 weeks in a month (10 days) and then take the next 10 days off using accumulated vacation time, only the 10 days you worked will counts towards the SGA.

This is important, because it means that you can apply for SSDI, without having to first use up all your paid time off.  And, since there is a five-month waiting period for SSDI benefits to begin, you paid time off can help bridge that gap.

For more information about SGA and applying for SSDI, visit: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10029.pdf or https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0410505010.

Washington State Helps People Take Time Off Work

Paid family and medical leave is a lifeline for families who need to take time off work toPaid family and medical leave bond with a new child, for their own serious medical condition, or to care for family member with a serious medical condition, but are concerned about the loss of income. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but many employees who are eligible don’t take it, because they can’t afford the loss of income.

In July, Washington Governor, Jay Inslee, signed into law a paid family and medical leave benefit.

This law will begin on January 1, 2020, and will allow employees to take up to 12 weeks off of work for: their own serious medical condition or to care for family member with a serious medical condition; or to bond with a new child; or 16 weeks for a combination of both. If an employee has pregnancy complications, then the employee may be eligible for an additional two weeks of leave. Employees are eligible for up to 90% of their income, under this paid family leave benefit.

An individual must work 820 hours before qualifying to take the leave. Both employers and employees will pay into a fund to cover the cost of leave for employees. Employers with less than 50 employees are exempt from paying into the system. Self-employed individuals are eligible if they pay the employee share into the system.

Washington is one of 6 states that offer paid family leave for caregivers. Washington had passed a law in 2007, but was never funded, so it never went into effect.

Here is a brief overview of what other states offer for caregivers:


  • Began: 2004
  • Paid by: employee
  • Length: 6 weeks
  • Benefit: 55-70% of income

New Jersey

  • Began: 2009
  • Paid by: employer-employee
  • Length: 6 weeks
  • Benefit: 66% of income

Rhode Island

  • Began: 2014
  • Paid by: employee
  • Length: 4 weeks
  • Benefit: 60% of income

New York

  • Begins: 2018-2020
  • Paid by: employer-employee
  • Length: 8-12 weeks
  • Benefit: 50% of income

Washington, D.C.

  • Begins: July 2020
  • Paid by: employer
  • Length: 8 weeks
  • Benefit: 90% of income

Cities have also been working to offer paid leave programs. For example, in San Francisco, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved full pay during family leave.

It is important to note that each state has a different definition of which family members you can care for and be eligible for paid family leave.

5 states (CA, NY, NJ, RI, HI) and Puerto Rico also offer state disability insurance benefits for employees who need to take time off for their own medical condition.

For information on what might be available to you in your city or state, visit our website to see resources and our chart of state laws.

“Going Out on Disability”

When someone is faced with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, they often wonder “do I Going Out on Disabilityneed to go out on disability?”  Unfortunately, they aren’t always sure what that actually means, or that it could mean multiple things.

The main confusion comes from not understanding the difference between disability leave and disability insurance.

Generally, the term “disability leave” is used to refer to time off from work, taken by an employee due to a serious illness or injury. However, it is important for individuals to understand how they are taking that leave.  Employees may be able to take time off from work under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is a federal law that provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, but job protected leave, per year.  (Triage Cancer’s Quick Guide to the FMLA).  Some employees may also be able to get some time off as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is a federal law that provides protections for individuals with disabilities. (Triage Cancer’s Quick Guide to Reasonable Accommodations). Disability leave may also refer to time off from work because of an employee’s medical condition, which is allowed under a specific employer’s policy rather than required by law.

If an employee has to take some time off, or has determined they are unable to work at all, the next thing they have to understand, is how they might be able to replace their lost wages. That is where disability insurance comes into play. Disability insurance benefits can be purchased directly from a private insurance company, or can be offered by an employer, some state governments, or the federal government.

You may be able to purchase a private disability policy directly from an insurance company. Unfortunately, there are very few regulations around the sale of these policies, so companies are allowed to take into consideration pre-existing conditions and health status when determine whether to sell you a policy and what to charge. So, if you already have a pre-existing condition, it is difficult to get a private disability insurance plan. However, it doesn’t hurt to look into your options in your state.  You can visit http://triagecancer.org/stateresources to find your state’s insurance agency, which should share information about which companies sell policies in your state.

Many employers also offer disability insurance as a benefit of employment.  Employers may pay all or part of the premium. One example of an employer-sponsored disability insurance plan is Aflac, but there are many others. These group plans are guaranteed-issue, meaning that you cannot be denied, but you may face exclusions of coverage for pre-existing conditions. Contact your employer’s human resources representative or your employer’s insurance company for more information about your specific plan.

There are also a handful of states (CA, HI, NJ, NY, RI, and PR) that have state disability insurance programs. The details vary by state, but generally these programs are for short term disabilities (up to one year).

Finally, there are two federal disability insurance programs: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  Both programs are run by the Social Security Administration and are based on having a long term disability.

Get more, customized information about disability insurance at http://cancerfinances.org, or check out Triage Cancer’s Quick Guide to Disability Insurance

The bottom line, is instead of simply saying “I’m going out on disability,” it can help to be clear about if you mean disability leave or that you are receiving disability insurance benefits, or both!

Medical Certification – Don’t Let It Disclose For You

If you choose to keep completely mum about your cancer diagnosis at work, you’ll be in triage-cancer-blog-medical-certificationgood company.  Grover Cleveland had a surgery for oral cancer in 1893, while serving as President of the United States, and nobody heard anything about it until 1917. President Woodrow Wilson had a serious stroke in 1919, and the country was basically run by First Lady Edith Wilson for the next two years. JFK flat out denied having Addison’s disease during his 1960 bid for the White House. Just like you, presidential candidates have no legal obligation to tell their employers (their constituents) about their medical health.

Generally, while you have no obligation to disclose, there are some instances where you might find it beneficial to share some information about your medical condition with an employer or potential employer. This is a very personal choice. The important thing to realize is that you have a choice. Triage Cancer participated in a free webinar about disclosure, privacy, and online brand.

There are also some instances where you could inadvertently stumble into a disclosure. For instance, if you want to use the ADA, or the Americans with Disabilities Act to request a reasonable accommodation at work, your employer will likely ask you to have your doctor fill out a medical certification form. Employers can create their own medical certification forms and can ask you about your diagnosis.  If you are not interested in sharing a cancer diagnosis with your employer, you only need to share enough medical information to show that you are eligible for the reasonable accommodation that you are asking for.  So you could talk about side effects that you are experiencing without talking about a cancer diagnosis.  But it is important to talk with your health care team about your disclosure decisions, before you ask them to complete your form.

Another law you might want to use is the FMLA, or Family and Medical Leave Act.  This law allows to take time off, unpaid, without the fear of losing your job. This law also allows an employer to ask for a medical certification form to be filled out by a member of your health care team. Even though the U.S. Department of Labor has created a model form for employers to use, some employers create their own forms and may ask for more information than they are entitled to have.

To help you navigate these decisions, Triage Cancer has some created some new, informative Quick Guides:

Quick Guide to Disclosure, Privacy, & Medical Certification Forms

Extended Quick Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

As always, knowledge is power, so get informed.

An Update on the Movement for Paid Sick Leave

Triage Cancer Blog Paid Sick LeaveThis past Labor Day, President Obama signed an executive order requiring federal contractors to offer workers up to seven days of paid sick time per year.

For some, paid sick leave is something that is taken for granted. Most employers are not required to offer their employees paid sick days. More than 43 million private sector workers (40% of the workforce) lack access to any paid sick time. Many of these workers are low-wage employees who cannot afford to miss a paycheck.

Employers that do offer paid sick days are often going above and beyond what is required under the law, because their workers tend to be more satisfied, productive, and healthy employees. There are also steep costs associated with hiring and training a new employee (estimated at about one-fifth of an employee’s salary), and paid sick leave can help to retain good employees.

Laws requiring paid sick days for employees are few and far between.  Check out the Triage Cancer Chart on State Laws to see if paid sick days (and other legal protections) are required in your state or city.

Latest news

On March 10, 2016, Vermont’s governor signed legislation to require paid sick leave, making Vermont only the fifth state to do so. This law goes into effect January 1, 2017. Learn more.

These is also a bill pending in the U.S. Congress right now, the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 932/S. 497), which would give people up to seven sick days per year to recover from their own illness, seek preventive care, or care for a sick family member.

For the cancer community, access to paid sick leave can allow for paid time off for medical appointments, treatment, and recovery. Paid sick leave can also work in coordination with reasonable accommodations, FMLA leave, and other employer benefits.

It is an election year, so if access to paid sick leave is something that is important to you, ask your candidates how they stand on this issue.

Learn more about existing paid sick leave laws and legislative campaigns at the state and federal level.

Taking Time Off in California & New York, Just Got Easier!

Triage Cancer Paid Family LeaveOn Monday, 4/11, California expanded its Paid Family Leave program, when Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 908 into law.

Paid Family Leave (PFL) is a lifeline for families who need to take up to 6 weeks of time off work to bond with a new child or to care for a sick family member.  California is one of 5 states that offer this option. (New Jersey offers 6 weeks and Rhode Island offers 4 weeks. Washington passed a law in 2007, but it has not gone into effect.

While California’s PFL program is a great resource for families, it has only paid 55% of your wages when you take time off work. Starting in 2018, it will increase from 55% to 70% for those making minimum wage and 60% for almost all other workers. Watch this video from the bill signing.

Other cities and states have been working to offer paid leave programs. Just this month:

  • In San Francisco, the County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved full pay during family leave.
  • In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a family leave law that gives workers up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, twice as long as any other state. You can take time off to bond with a new child (including adopted or foster children), or to care for a gravely ill parent, child, spouse, domestic partner, or other family member.

For information on what might be available to you in your city or state, visit our website to see resources and our chart of state laws.

Join us in Chicago, on Friday, April 8th

chicago-theatre-890350_640For the third year in a row, Cancer and Careers will travel to the Windy City to host a free, daylong event focused on the challenges working people with cancer face in their efforts to balance treatment/recovery and employment.
Cancer and Careers’ Chief Mission Officer Rebecca Nellis will co-present with Triage Cancer’s Chief Operating Officer, Monica Bryant to provide patients, survivors, healthcare professionals, caregivers, and employers the information and tools they need to address important issues.  Among the topics that will be covered: disclosure, privacy & online brand; working through treatment and returning to work, including legal rights; managing finances; and health insurance options. In addition to the in-person presentations, attendees will be given helpful materials – including guides, workbooks & one-sheets – to take with them, for easy reference.
The Conference will be held at the Hotel Chicago Downtown and begins with breakfast at 8:00 AM. Lunch and parking are provided as well. To register, go to www.cancerandcareers.org/en/midwest. We hope to see you there!
If you’re unable to join us in April, we’ll be partnering with Triage Cancer again – this time in NYC – for Cancer and Careers’ annual National Conference on Work & Cancer, on June 17th. Triage Cancer has been an integral partner on this, CAC’s biggest event, since it launched six years ago. So we’re excited to have them involved again. Both Joanna Morales, Triage Cancer’s CEO, and Monica Bryant, will be there to present. For information and to register for the National Conference, go to www.cancerandcareers.org/conference. Travel scholarships are available for the National Conference; applications are due by April 15th.
If you’re on the West Coast, save the date of Saturday, October 15, 2016, when we’ll host our second West Coast Conference, in Los Angeles. Again, Triage Cancer will be there! Details and registration will be available at the end of March, at www.cancerandcareers.org/en/westcoast.

Can’t Afford to Take Time Off?

A cancer diagnosis can bring a lot of unexpected expenses. And if you have to take Triage Cancer Blog SSA Disability Insurancetime off work, how do you still pay your bills? Disability insurance can help you manage the costs of a cancer diagnosis.

However, navigating the various disability insurance options can be a challenge. The first step is to learn about the different types of disability insurance you may be qualified to receive.

If you are unable to work because of your medical condition, depending on your diagnosis, time spent working and contributing to the Social Security retirement system in the past, you may be eligible for federal disability benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), state disability insurance programs, disability insurance offered by your employer, or private disability insurance that you buy directly from an insurance company.

SSDI is a federal program through the Social Security Administration (SSA) that provides a monthly payment for those who have worked for a sufficient amount of time, contributed to the Social Security retirement system by paying taxes, and meet SSA’s definition of disability. After receiving SSDI benefits for two years, recipients are also entitled to Medicare.

SSI is also a SSA program that pays monthly benefits to the elderly, blind, and people who have disabilities and very low income and assets. These payments begin immediately, and you would be able to receive them during the SSDI waiting period if you qualify for both SSI and SSDI. Typically, people who receive SSI benefits and are eligible for Medicaid.

Both the SSDI and SSI programs have the same standard of “disability.” To be considered “disabled” by Social Security, you must be “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity (or any work activity where you earn more than $1,130 in 2016) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that is expected to result in death or has lasted, or can be expected to last, for a continuous period of 12 months.”

If you are approved you will receive a letter with a date of “disability onset,” this date is the date that SSA believes your disability began and the start date of your “waiting period.” You must wait five months from this date before you will begin to receive SSDI benefits. Your monthly disability payment is calculated using a formula that takes into account how much you have paid in Social Security taxes over your work history.

If your initial application for SSDI or SSI is not approved you have the option of appealing the denial. In most states you can request a reconsideration of your application. If you are still denied, you may request a hearing by an administrative law judge (ALJ). If you are deemed disabled after appeals processes, you may receive retroactive payments.

In addition to the federal disability insurance programs, some states offer state disability insurance. California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico offer short-term disability insurance benefits to those who are unable to work due to a medical condition.

Private and employer-sponsored disability insurance is another option for you to consider. Private insurance is available for purchase directly from an insurance company. In some cases, employers offer both short and long-term disability coverage for their employees. A policy usually provides regular payments that replace a portion of your salary. One important thing to note is that you may qualify for your employer-based policy, even if you don’t qualify for SSDI or SSI.


Triage Cancer has resources to help you find out more about disability insurance and how it can help you:

  • Review our quick guide on Disability Insurance to see what type of disability insurance benefits might be available to you.
  • We also have a recent webinar, Demystifying Disability Insurance, delivered by Monica Bryant, Esq., CEO of Triage Cancer, which provides more detailed information on these options!

For more information about the Social Security Administration’s disability benefits, visit: www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi or read this guide: www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10029.pdf.