Working Long Hours During Treatment

Last Modified: September 17, 2010


Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

I am a lawyer (out of college only 3 years)- my job demands lots of long and late hours. I recently started treatment for Hodgkin’s disease. I don’t know where to start- do I tell people at work? How can I keep up the schedule? I don’t want to jeopardize my career. Any suggestions?


Rodney N. Warner, JD, Staff Attorney at The Legal Clinic for the Disabled, responds:

Welcome to the club! I was working as an attorney when I was diagnosed with Hodgkins! Only I had a cushy 9 to 5 government job, so long hours weren't an issue for me, Thank God. This link is a good start: Are long and late hours an essential function of the job? The only “people” you need to tell is your supervisor, if you want to ask for a reasonable accommodation. How you keep up with the schedule is a medical question, not a legal one. Are you physically capable of working those hours? If not, are those hours an essential function of the job? Can working shorter hours be a reasonable accommodation, or would it present an undue hardship to the employer? Try not jeopardize your career, but don't jeopardize your health either. Any firm that's willing and able to work you to death while you undergo cancer treatment is not a firm you want to work for. If they do say it's OK to work less hours, but require you to work the same billable hours (year end) as your healthy co-workers, that would be an ineffective accommodation and violate the ADA. If you're allowed, let's say, to work 10% less, your billable hour requirement should be 10% less. Does your firm have 50 or more employees? If so, you may qualify for FMLA leave. Talk to a good plaintiff's attorney who does employment law. You can also try to hash this out with these folks. I think any law firm that fires an attorney, undergoing cancer treatment, after he/she requests an accommodation, is just BEGGING to be sued.

Rebecca Nellis, Director of Programs at Cancer and Careers, responds:

This is definitely a hard one and your field is incredibly demanding particularly when you are starting out, but the truth is you have to listen to yourself. You don't have to tell anyone legally unless you need a reasonable accommodation, for instance time off for treatment. But you might want to confide in some people if that would make it easier on you to get up and go to work everyday; this is very much about who you are as a person and how you operate.

Things to consider before telling: do you know of anyone else at your firm who has been through something similar? How did the office react? Was it supportive? Have you reviewed your employee manual? Is there any information on leave banks (people donating there unused time off to colleagues who need it) or flex time? Are there ways you can cutback at all? Or reduce other demands on your time if career is your primary focus? Also, be sure to discuss the work is a high priority with your healthcare team so they can take that into account when structuring/scheduling your treatment. Sometimes day of the week doesn't matter to anyone but you, so be sure to figure out what impact it is having and when the optimum times in your week are, if that is possible. We have a lot of information on that you might find helpful as well.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series, Issues Facing Young Adults After Cancer. View the entire transcript.


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