Succeeding in the Workplace After a Cancer Diagnosis

by: Lindsey Montoya

Finding a happy medium between getting the job done efficiently and coping with the side RAeffects of cancer treatments is difficult. Many people who have been diagnosed with cancer spend a considerable amount of time worrying not just about their health and recovery, but about how their recovery is going to affect their career. How will I cope with the side effects while on the job? What will my boss do if I can’t perform as I once did? Will my coworkers understand? Fortunately, there is a great resource for both employees facing cancer and employers learning how to accommodate them.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a service of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. JAN provides both employers and employees with ideas and support to help employees with a disability or immediate health concern to keep performing their jobs in a way that meets both parties’ needs. With “reasonable accommodations,” cancer patients can be more comfortable in their jobs, and in turn, work more efficiently and effectively.

So what are “reasonable accommodations?” Generally, they can be any change in a work space, schedule, or policy that helps an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities. There are a myriad of side effects that cancer patients and survivors may experience during the workday, causing a need for a reasonable accommodation. Some side effects include: hair loss, weakened immune system, fatigue, weakness, respiratory difficulties, skin irritations, stress, depression, anxiety, and temperature sensitivity, just to name a few. JAN helps employers/employees determine the limitations and problematic job tasks that cancer patients may face, and the accommodations available to reduce or eliminate these problems in different types of jobs.

Accommodation ideas:

Symptom: Fatigue/Weakness
Possible accommodations: Reduce or eliminate physical exertion, schedule periodic rest breaks, allow a flexible work schedule, allow work from home, implement ergonomic workstation design, provide a mobility aid, provide parking close to work-site, install automatic door openers, move equipment/materials close to employee, move workstation close to other work areas, reduce noise

Symptom: Respiratory Difficulties
Possible accommodations: Provide adjustable ventilation, keep work environment free from dust, smoke, odor, and fumes, implement a “fragrance-free” and/or a “smoke-free” environment, avoid extreme temperatures, allow use of fan/heater at workstation, redirect air conditioner/heater vents

Symptom: Skin Irritations
Possible accommodations: Avoid infectious agents and chemicals, avoid invasive procedures, provide alternative and protective clothing

Symptom: Stress
Possible accommodations: Provide sensitivity training to coworkers, allow telephone calls to doctors and other support systems during work hours, provide information on counseling and employee assistance programs, implement flexible scheduling, allow a modified break schedule, allow leave for counseling, allow work from home

Symptom: Temperature Sensitivity
Possible accommodations: Modify work-site temperature, modify dress code, allow use of fan/heater at workstation, allow work from home during extreme heat or cold, redirect air conditioning/heating vents, provide an office with separate temperature controls

There are many ideas and products that can be used to accommodate employees facing challenges at work related to their medical conditions. JAN has a searchable online database to discover additional options that can help you in the workplace.

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