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Colorectal Cancer: Newly Diagnosed: At Work (Stages 0, 1)

Be Cautious Before Telling About Your Diagnosis

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People have been known to be discriminated against because of their health condition. There are laws protecting against such discrimination, but it can still happen.

When thinking about how your employer will react, look at the Survivorship A to Z document in "To Learn More" about how to determine if your employer is cancer friendly.


Your colorectal cancer may also cause coworkers to feel uncomfortable around you. On the other hand, there are many, many stories of co-workers who pitch in to help, including providing sick days and taking food to co-workers at home when needed.

There is no legal obligation to tell either employers or co-workers.

In General

If your work situation isn't a good place to discuss the details of your illness, perhaps your best option is to take time off and be discrete at work about what is wrong.

  • Filing an insurance claim does not automatically trigger disclosure of what is wrong with you. In most situations, the insurer and the company's benefits department are specifically prohibited from such disclosure.

  • Many companies also have a system under which you can send your claim directly to the insurer.

You don't have to make a decision before start of treatment about whether or not to disclose your health condition to your employer or co-workers – but now is a good time to start thinking about it.

If you do decide to disclose your health condition, think about:

  • First consider who to tell. An employer must keep the information confidential. There is no similar restriction on co-workers.

  • If you will need time off beyond what you are entitled to as vacation time, or you need an accommodation at work to permit you to do your job while undergoing treatment, you will have to disclose your condition at least to your employer, and likely to your co-workers.

  • It may help determine whether to tell if you think about whether your employer is cancer friendly or not. (See "To Learn More.")

If you need to disclose your condition, instead of telling a low level employee in human resources, tell a supervisor. Supervisors are more likely to know about and honor the confidentiality requirement than low level clerks. Remind him or her that you expect this information to remain confidential -- at least until you have a chance to decide who you want to tell and when.

Keep in mind that what you tell co-workers is not confidential information. As a practical matter, it will be difficult not to tell co-workers if part of your work will be shifted to them.

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