Woman deciding to take time off work because of a cancer diagnosis

What to Know When Dealing with a Cancer Diagnosis & Taking Time Off Work

When dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, you may find that you need to take time off or stop working entirely. This blog discusses what you should think about if you’re taking time off for a shorter period, or if you are taking a long-term leave or stopping working. It also includes key steps to take at the end of employment. 

Taking Time Off for a Shorter Period

Before taking time off, check whether your employer offers sick leave or other paid or unpaid leave. There may be a company policy or a law that provides leave time to deal with your own serious medical condition.  

Federal laws that may apply include the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For more information you can look at our Quick Guide to the FMLA and our Quick Guide to the ADA & Reasonable Accommodations.

There are also state and local laws that may protect you. These laws may provide job and/or health insurance protection while you are taking time off. For more detailed information on state laws, review our State Resources and Chart of State Laws – Taking Time Off.

Some laws may even provide for paid leave if you are taking time off. Your employer may also provide short-term disability insurance, if you are taking time off because of your medical condition. Some states also offer state disability insurance benefits. See our Quick Guide to State Disability Insurance for more information.

Taking a Long-Term Leave or Stopping Working

If you are unable to work for a longer period of time, your employer may not be required to hold your job for you. You may want to find a new job, retire, or you may be concerned that you won’t be able to work again. Depending on your situation you may have access to the following options to maintain income and health insurance coverage.

Maintaining Income:

Generally, there are three common options for replacing lost income: disability insurance, retirement, or unemployment benefits.

  • Disability Insurance: If you are unable to work for an extended period of time due to your medical condition, you may be eligible for disability insurance. Private long-term disability insurance (LTD) policies can be purchased individually or provided through your employer.
    • In addition, the Social Security Administration (SSA) runs two long-term disability insurance programs: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). For details, read our Quick Guide to Disability Insurance. Note: It’s possible to get private LTD benefits and SSDI, but the SSDI amount will be subtracted from the LTD amount. For more information, read our Quick Guide to Navigating SSDI & SSI.
  • Retirement: Depending on your age when you retire, you may be eligible for benefits from SSA, from a private account, or through an employer pension. Consider speaking to a financial planner or an accountant to make the best decision for you.
    • If you paid Social Security taxes while working, the amount of your monthly benefits will depend on your retirement age and earnings. You can check your eligibility by signing up for a My Social Security account or calling SSA at 800-772-1213. Note: you cannot collect both SSA retirement and SSDI benefits. Once you reach your full retirement age, if you were receiving SSDI benefits, they will then be considered retirement benefits.
  • Unemployment Benefits: Each state’s unemployment benefits program operates differently. Eligibility for unemployment benefits and the amount of those benefits typically depends on past earnings and location.
    • If an individual leaves their job voluntarily, they are usually not eligible. Generally, individuals cannot receive both SSDI and unemployment benefits. This is because most states require individuals who collect unemployment benefits to certify that they are able to work and are actively looking for work, while the SSA requires individuals applying for benefits to be unable to work because of their medical condition.
    • For more information on unemployment benefits, visit our Resources by Location page and select your state.

Health Insurance Options:

If you lose employer-sponsored health insurance coverage, your options may include:

  • Continuing the same coverage through COBRA or a state COBRA continuation law
  • Purchasing new health insurance through your state’s marketplace (Depending on your household size and household income, financial assistance may be available.)
  • Joining a spouse’s or parent’s employer-sponsored plan
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare

To learn more about these options, and how to compare plans, read our Quick Guide to Losing Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance and watch our Animated Video on Losing Health Insurance at Work.

Key Steps to Take at the End of Employment

When leaving a job there are several steps that you can take in order to make the transition as smooth as possible:

  • Confirm your last paycheck and check to see if you will be paid for unused vacation time.
  • If you are eligible for COBRA or state COBRA, make sure you have the paperwork and know where to send it.
  • Understand your other health insurance options and if they may work better for you than COBRA.
  • Make sure you review options for converting employer benefits like vision, dental, disability, or life insurance to individual policies.
  • Review your options for rolling over retirement accounts.  
  • If you plan on moving you should also update your employer with your new address so they can send tax documents in the future.
    • Remove personal data & then return any equipment that belongs to your employer.

For more detailed information about this topic, see our Quick Guide to Leaving Work.

About Triage Cancer

Triage Cancer is a national, nonprofit providing free education to people diagnosed with cancer, caregivers, and health care professionals on cancer-related legal and practical issues. Through events, materials, and resources, Triage Cancer is dedicated to helping people move beyond diagnosis.

We're glad you find this resource helpful! Please feel free to share it with your communities or to post a link on your organization's website. However, this content may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without the express permission of Triage Cancer. Please email us at  info@TriageCancer.org  to request permission.  © 2024 Triage Cancer

Similar Posts You May Like To Read:

Monica Bryant