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Support  > Careers and Cancer > Patient Perspectives on Changing Jobs

Last update: 10/20/2003

Topic: Changing Jobs after Diagnosis?  

(Support group thread from NHL-follic)
The following is lay perspective and does not constitute legal or expert advice.

D wrote: 

Has anyone here ever changed jobs after their diagnosis? When I was first diagnosed, I just assumed I was stuck here with this job for the rest of my life because of the health insurance issues. A friend of mine who doesn't know I have lymphoma has asked me to come to work with him at another company and I'm tempted. But once they find out I have cancer, I wondering if they'd hire me.



K wrote:

D, Good question.

I'm thinking you might want to be out front about your diagnosis with the new prospect and that will require educating them about the indolent NHL as well. This before you leave your current job of course. If they hire you, they probably can't easily let you go if you then have downtime in future because of the need for treatment. But your current employer could do same, so it might be a matter of who you trust more. When you have a new job, there is often a probationary period (said or unsaid), so this might increase the risks, which goes back to the first point about being up front and maybe getting a contract in writing before leaving your other job. Other factors (stuff we can't know about) include the special skills you bring to the new job and how expendable you are or are not to the new company, and to the old.

I think many states have laws that protect workers from being layed off when they get sick, but you should check to be sure. I'm definitely not "up" on these matters. First step, i think, is to learn what protections you have under the law, and these may be state-specific. For example, is insurance coverage maintained when you switch jobs, even if you have a new carrier and a preexisting condition? I think it is here in NY, but I'm not positive.

You will also want to know how good the insurance policy is for the new job.

Just some thoughts.


D wrote: 

Thanks for the input K. Yes, I told my friend to check with the HR department there to find out if they would even hire someone who has lymphoma. No interview scheduled yet.

I put my life on hold when I was diagnosed and now that seems as if that may have been a bit premature. There are some issues here, upper management has threatened to outsource ALL software development for one thing. They can't do that, it won't work but "outsourcing" is the management buzzword of the 21st century so they have to try it here at the place where buzzwords go to die. :)

Might be better to test the waters now than to wait until there are 2000 other programmers out of work in a town of 250,000.


K wrote:  

Hey D, I'm sort of permanently outsourced.  It can work out. : )  Perhaps because you have nhl, they will think twice about outsourcing your position because it might look like they are doing it because you have nhl?  ~ Kl



L wrote: 

Hi D,  Find out from your current HR dept how it handles the COBRA law. This may allow you to carry your current group rate health insurance on  your own for some period after you leave the company.

Find out from your prospective HR health insurance company when its OPEN ENROLLMENT period is.
You can switch from one insurance to another during their open enrollment without a pre-existing waiting period, at least in NYS.

So the best scenario would be to leave current job during the prospective job's health insurance open enrollment period. If not, then you carry current insurance via COBRA until the new open enrollment 
period and sign up for it. You may have to carry both insurances for 3 months or so to prevent a lapse in coverage.

You don't want to have an insurance lapse, 'cause then its a new policy, not a roll-over.

Best of luck on making the switch. And I think you are right to do it  sooner. 

"Outsourcing" is the current buzz-word for layoffs.

Also, your health condition is your own concern. Why bias the new employer against you by telling them you have cancer? Would you tell them if you had diabetes? You are symptom free, riding 100 miles on a bike and working like a  draft horse. Don't borrow a jack. They buy what they see, no one can predict the future. 


M wrote: 

Hi D,  HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) may be helpful to you here. HIPAA's the law that makes it a nightmare to try to get your medical records, but its big upside is that it often enables people to change jobs when they have a health condition without losing insurance. It's a federal law, (applies in all states, and this part has been around since 1997), that prevents an employer from excluding you from health insurance due to health (or any other reason) if everyone is offered insurance. 

It also ensures that pre-existing condition exclusions can be a maximum of twelve months, and if you had previous coverage, that coverage can reduce or eliminate any pre-existing condition exclusions. So if you have had insurance for 12 months or more, any pre-existing condition clause will not apply to you. If, for example, you had coverage for 9 months, then changed jobs, the maximum time that you would be subject to a pre-existing condition clause would be 3 months. 

Companies can still have a "waiting period" as long as it applies to all new employees, e.g. they can say that you must work there for 6 months before being eligible for insurance. In that case, as mentioned by Lance, COBRA coverage would be very helpful. It is key not to have a lapse in coverage of 63 days or more. If you have no coverage for less than 63 days, you are still considered to have had coverage. 63 days or over, and you have to start from scratch with any pre-existing condition clauses. (A good, but complicated, detail is that if you don't have coverage because you're in a waiting period, that doesn't usually count as a lapse in coverage, but I don't recommend being without insurance in any case...) With most employers, I don't believe the timing of the open enrollment period (which is when existing employees can change insurance) is an issue for new employees--they either allow you to enroll when you are hired, or they have a set waiting period, regardless of when open enrollment is. 

Different states may have different rules, but they have to provide at least as much protection as HIPAA: for example, I believe in California pre-existing condition clauses can last no more than 6 months. There are a lot of details with HIPAA, but the above is the gist. For more details, the US Department of Labor has a fact sheet at  and a helpful FAQ page at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq_consumer_hipaa.html  

As for telling a new employer about your NHL, I would think in general the less said the better. You are definitely not obligated to tell them. You don't need to explain a gap in your resume since you don't
have one, and if you're functioning OK right now I don't see why you'd need to tell them. They can require a pre-employment physical, but only after they've made an offer, and can only deny you the job if
they find a problem that gets in the way of your doing the essential duties of the job "with or without a reasonable accommodation". 

If you're able to make it to the Educational Forum in DC, I'd recommend attending the "Employment and Insurance" breakout session with Barbara Schwerin, JD. She presented in 2001, and that's where
most of this info comes from. The link to the transcript of her 2001 talk is at http://www.lymphomafocus.org The HIPAA info is about halfway down the page. 

People usually use the disclaimer that they're not a doctor, but I'll change it to I'm not a lawyer. This is how I understand things, but I offer no guarantees. The web pages, and talking to a lawyer specializing in employment issues, might be useful.

Hope this helps!


C wrote:

D: About 6 months ago I interviewed for a position out in the mid-west, prior to even saying yes to the first interview I had talked to a lot of people... MY oncologists was one of the people who told me that my cancer should not deter me from changing positions. He, and others said , let them hire you as yourself, not as a person with cancer.... from an HR standpoint they cannot ask you about your health, so it does not need to be discussed... I was really the only one that had a problem with my cancer... I was thinking that it would be unfair to that institution to have to pay for my illness, should I get worse.... I struggled with it, but in the end was convinced that I shouldn't let the cancer keep me from advancing my career... As an aside, as I understand, if you go from one company based insurance to another, you cannot be declined health coverage.. I asked our HR department to confirm this (life insurance also).. We did not end up going, family vs. health, but if I have the opportunity in the future I

Good luck

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