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Job Application Process

If you are looking for a new job, consider these steps to lessen the chance that you will face discrimination because of your cancer history:

  • Do not volunteer that you have or have had cancer unless it directly affects your qualifications for the job. An employer has the right - under accepted business practices and most state and federal laws - to know only if you can perform the essential duties of the job.
  • Do not lie on a job or insurance application. If you are hired and your employer later learns that you lied, you may be fired for your dishonesty. Insurance companies may refuse to pay benefits or cancel your coverage. Federal and state laws that prohibit employment discrimination do not guarantee that all employers will follow the law. If you are asked a question that you think is illegal, give an honest (and perhaps indirect) answer that emphasizes your current abilities to do the job.
  • Keep in mind your legal rights. For example, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer may not ask about your medical history, require you to take a medical examination, or request medical records from your doctor before making a conditional job offer. Once an employer has made a conditional job offer, the employer can require you to submit to a medical examination only if it is required of all other applicants for the job. The medical examination may consider only your ability to perform safely the essential duties of that job.
  • Keep the focus on your current ability to do the job in question. Employers may not ask how often you were absent from past jobs, but they can ask if you can meet the employers' current attendance requirements.
  • Apply only for jobs that you are able to do. It is not illegal for an employer to reject you for a job if you are not qualified for it, regardless of your medical history.
  • If you have to explain a long period of unemployment during cancer treatment, one way to de-emphasize a gap in your school or work history because of cancer treatment is to organize your resume by experience and skills, instead of by date.
  • Seek help from a job counselor or social worker with resume preparation and job interviewing skills. Practice answers to expected questions such as "why did you miss a year of work" or "why did you leave your last job?" Answers to these questions must be honest, but should stress your current qualifications for the job and not past problems, if any, resulting from your cancer experience.
  • If you are interviewing for a job, do not ask about health insurance until after you have been given a job offer. Then ask to see the benefits package. Prior to accepting the job, review it to make sure it meets your needs. 
  • Do not discriminate against yourself by assuming that cancer leaves you unable to work. Although cancer treatment leaves some survivors with real physical or mental disabilities, many survivors are capable of performing the same duties and activities as they did prior to diagnosis. With the help or your medical team, make an honest assessment of your abilities compared with the mental and physical demands of the job.


Reviewed by Joanna Fawzy Morales, Esq. January 2014.