Paid Sick Leave May Help Cancer Patient Retain Jobs

4/23/13 Studio head shot portrait of Christine Veenstra for Hem/Oncol.

Dr. Veenstra Interview with:
Christine Veenstra MD

Clinical Lecturer, Internal Medicine
Medical Oncology
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI  48109-5343

MedicalResearch: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Veenstra: Patients with cancer face many costs and incur financial burden as they go through diagnosis and treatment. For working patients, cancer diagnosis and treatment may come with the additional burden of time away from work, lost income, and even long-term job loss. Although 40% of US workers do not have access to paid sick leave, we hypothesized that availability of paid sick leave could reduce the need to take unpaid time away from work during cancer treatment and might therefore be associated with job retention and reduced personal financial burden.

In a survey of over 1300 patients with Stage III colorectal cancer, we found that only 55% of those who were employed at the time of their cancer diagnosis retained their jobs. Working patients with paid sick leave were nearly twice as likely to retain their jobs compared with working patients who did not have paid sick leave. This held true even when controlling for income, education and health insurance. Furthermore, working patients without paid sick reported significantly higher personal financial burden than those who had paid sick leave available.

MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report? 

Dr. Veenstra: We want clinicians to recognize that time away from work and missed income can be a significant problem for patients as they undergo cancer treatment. This can lead to increased personal financial burden and is one of the unmeasured costs of cancer care. Millions of working Americans do not have access to paid sick leave—it is not part of the Affordable Care Act, The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or health insurance. We want policymakers and employers to know that paid sick leave may help patients retain their jobs and alleviate the financial strain associated with cancer treatment. 

MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Veenstra: We are currently conducting a study of the impact of paid sick leave and other job support benefits on receipt of recommended treatment for working patients with colorectal cancer. We are also planning to investigate the associations between paid sick leave and treatment and financial outcomes in a nationwide study of working patients with colorectal and other cancers. We would welcome further study of the impact of paid sick leave on working patients with cancer and other serious illnesses.


Christine M. Veenstra, MD, MSHP; Scott E. Regenbogen, MD, MPH; Sarah T. Hawley, PhD, MPH; Paul Abrahamse, MA; Mousumi Banerjee, PhD; Arden M. Morris, MD, MPH.
Association of Paid Sick Leave With Job Retention and Financial Burden Among Working Patients With Colorectal Cancer. JAMA, December 2015 DOI:10.1001/jama.2015.12383

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Christine Veenstra MD (2015). Paid Sick Leave May Help Cancer Patient Retain Jobs 

Last Updated on December 23, 2015 by Marie Benz MD FAAD