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Do I need to disclose whether I've had cancer?

When you apply for jobs in California, you may wonder whether you should disclose a history of cancer. The answer, generally, is no, and if potential employers ask questions such as, "How much sick leave have you taken in the past five years?" you are well within your rights not to answer. In fact, such a question is illegal. This holds true no matter the type of job you are applying for, be it marketing specialist, actress, fundraising director or executive assistant.


Of course, there are exceptions to the non-disclosure rule. You may prefer explaining your cancer treatments upfront to dismiss any concerns that may be raised, but not voiced, about your appearance. This type of disclosure is voluntary; use your judgment. Another type of disclosure is not so voluntary.

For instance, suppose you must take a test required of all applicants, but you know you need extra time due to fatigue. In this case, you would need to disclose your cancer disability to receive the accommodation you are entitled to. Unfortunately, some employers may hold this against you, but this type of behavior is generally illegal.

Other exceptions apply in situations where a business is so small that it has fewer than 15 employees; in such a case, the Americans with Disabilities Act cannot protect you. An attorney can explain if any California regulations may help in your specific situation.

Legal questions

While an employer cannot ask you a question such as whether you have genetic issues that may lead to cancer, an employer can legally ask about issues such as your ability to travel, to work mornings or to lift a certain amount of weight. All these issues relate to job tasks. You can ethically answer yes to such questions, even if you require accommodations to do the work. However, you should clarify that you will need accommodations.


If a potential employer asks something such as, "Are you able to travel out of state Mondays and Tuesdays every week?" and you cannot because you are undergoing treatment, you can say something such as, "Due to treatments for breast cancer, conducting these meetings via video chat for at least two months is preferable. I am not able to travel extensively for the time being." Of course, you and/or the employer may come up with even better accommodations.

Searching for a job when you have cancer or a history or cancer can add stress onto what you have already experienced. If you believe that employers are discriminating against you, getting in touch with an attorney can help you understand your rights.

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