how to get time off work

How To Get Time Off Work When Your Child Has Cancer

When your child is first diagnosed with cancer, it feels like your entire world comes to a complete halt. But once time restarts, you may be faced with the daunting task of how to take time off of work while your child undergoes treatment.

Fortunately, most companies have rules and protections in place for these situations. It’s just a matter of working out the details.

Figuring Out The Family And Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has certainly made it easier for our patients’ families because they now have some guidelines to help them.

The FMLA allows you to take time off from your job if you, your spouse, your child (under 18 years of age), or your parent has a “serious health condition.”


Generally, you need to work for a company that employs at least 50 people in order to be covered by the FMLA, according to the Department of Labor (DOL).

However, there are exceptions. Local, state, and federal government employees, and elementary and secondary school teachers are covered regardless of the number of employees at their office.

If your employer is eligible for FMLA protection, you as an employee still need to qualify individually. Covered employees:

  • Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months total (not necessarily consecutive)
  • Have worked for the employer for at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months prior to taking leave (about 24 hours per week)
  • Have worked at a job site that has at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of that location

If you are not eligible for time off under the national Family and Medical Leave Act, you may still be covered under state laws, the DOL says.

Requesting FMLA Leave

We ask our families to go to their HR department and get the proper paperwork. Since the Act went into place, most businesses have that available. So, it’s important for our families to get their FMLA papers filled out.

The DOL divides the request process into 4 steps:

1. You Let Your Employer Know As Soon As Possible

You have to tell your employer that you plan to take time off under FMLA as soon as possible.

2. Your Employer Tells You About Your Eligibility

Your employer then must tell you if you’re eligible within five business days. If you are eligible, he then has to give you information about your FMLA rights and responsibilities. He also will submit a request for certification of the condition—so, in this case, proof of your child’s diagnosis.

3. You Provide Certification

You then have 15 calendar days (NOT business days) to return with that information, which is generally provided by the hospital where your child is being treated. We will fill those forms out for our families. We need to get the doctors to sign them, so that the families can get FMLA certification underway.

The DOL notes that you do not necessarily have to tell your employer your child’s exact diagnosis. However, you will need to provide him with proof that the condition is covered by the FMLA.

4. Your Employer Approves Your Leave

Your employer then has another five business days to let you know if your leave is FMLA approved.

Handling Work Challenges

Even with the FMLA, it can still be challenging for some families, depending on where they work, what kind of job they have, and how understanding the company will be. Some families still run into issues.


Recently, we had a couple where the mom was taking a leave of absence from her work while the child is sick. And we filled out the dad’s FMLA papers, so he can get days off as needed when there are big events happening.

We have another dad where every couple of weeks, we send a letter to his work stating that he is here with his child and needs to be here on a routine basis.

The situation can be very challenging for single parents. You hope they have some sort of support system in place that can help them get kids to appointments, so that they can use their days as wisely as possible.

Every now and then, a family uses up all of their medical leave days, and companies will threaten that the parents will lose their jobs. That’s a huge thing. Like they don’t already have enough going on in their life, now they’ve got that huge worry on top of it.

For some of these families dealing with prolonged illnesses—where the kids require lots of intensive therapy for long periods of time—the parents are trying to figure out: “Okay, I’m going to take this day, and my husband will do this day, because we have this many days in our calendar year.” We see that a lot with our parents who are teachers. Juggling these schedules can be very hard.

Finding Support In The Workplace

Some employers are more supportive than others. Businesses can—and will—do lots of things to support an employee whose child has been diagnosed with cancer.

There are employers who have fundraisers for families. Other employers allow employees to donate vacation days, so parents don’t have to go without a paycheck—because that can become a very crazy thing for people.

Some companies have hardship funds, or co-workers offer to pick up shifts for the parents, so they don’t have to feel like they have to be at work.

Some businesses can be accommodating and let parents work from the hospital. If it’s a business where they do a lot of computer work, allowing the parent to work from the hospital can be a huge help.

No matter what the work situation is, we work with our families to help them get the best support they need so that worries about work are minimal and they can focus on the care of their child.

Anisa Hoie
I've been a nurse for nearly 32 years, mostly taking care of kids with cancer. My job is to give the kids and their families a personal touch while they go through treatment.

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