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Can my boss tell my co-workers that I have cancer?

Telling your employer that you have cancer seems overwhelming enough. For example, you may be afraid that it will put your job in jeopardy. However, if your employer knows the law, the company would ideally exhaust all available options and reasonable accommodations before it considers anything like termination.

Of course, there are your co-workers too. Even if the talk with your boss goes great, you may be afraid of how your co-workers might react. In fact, you could be using so many accommodations that you feel anxious your co-workers will notice and think you are getting special treatment. Thus, the question arises of whether your boss can legally tell your co-workers that you have cancer.

Your employer cannot disclose

The law forbids your employer to tell your co-workers about your cancer, even if your physical appearance has changed drastically and these co-workers have approached your boss expressing concerns. Nor should the employer promote or give credence to gossip (for example, implying that you might have an eating disorder as long as the revelation is not about cancer).

What the employer can do is say that employee privacy is important as part of the company culture and that there will be no discussion of such matters. In ideal situations, the company would have shown itself to be accommodating to all kinds of situations and so any accommodations for your cancer would not get noticed and perceived as "special treatment" anyway.

Your employer cannot force you to disclose either, for example, by saying, "Everyone is so worried about you. You're a distraction to the team, so please tell everyone you have cancer." There are reasons to not want to disclose, the simple need for privacy among them, and you should never be in the position of having to justify wanting to keep quiet.

That said, you can disclose, but it should never be done because you feel pressured to. In supportive work environments, some co-workers can be a powerful ally when one of them has cancer.


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