- Cancer Information
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- Workplace issues
If you are employed or hope to return to work after treatment, you might wonder how cancer will affect your work life. It is up to you whether you tell your employer about your cancer, however, you may need to do so if your ability to do your job is affected or you need some changes to your work arrangements to help you continue your job or return to work.
For more on this, see Cancer, work and you.
Learn more about:
- Workplace changes
- Flexible working arrangements
- Taking leave
- Unfair dismissal
- Discrimination agencies
You may be concerned about your leave entitlements, or about being discriminated against, changing your working hours, or being dismissed from your job. Some of these issues are dealt with differently depending on your industry and the state or territory you live in. You may need to get specific advice from a lawyer who specialises in employment matters.
Employers have to take reasonable steps (called “reasonable adjustments”) to accommodate an employee’s illness and to help them do their job. Examples of reasonable adjustments include allowing additional breaks or modifying your workstation.
An employer can only refuse a request for reasonable adjustments if the changes would cause unjustifiable hardship to their business or on reasonable business grounds. If your request is refused, you can seek help from the Fair Work Ombudsman or the discrimination agency in your state or territory.
Flexible working arrangements
You have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements to help you manage your work. Usually, only employees who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months can request a flexible working arrangement. Employees covered by an Award may also have some extra rights when asking for flexible working arrangements. Flexible working arrangements differ on a case-by-case basis, but may include working from home some or all days or varying your hours.
Employers can only refuse a request for flexible working arrangements on reasonable business grounds. If your request is refused, you may seek help from the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Fair Work Commission or your state or territory discrimination agency.
All full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 10 days of paid personal leave each year. This leave can be taken when you are unwell or need to care for an immediate family or household member. Personal leave for part-time employees is calculated on a pro rata basis. Employees can take as much personal leave as they have built up (accumulated), though your employer can ask you to provide evidence of your illness. Casual employees are not entitled to paid personal leave.
If you need to take more time off work, you may be able to combine personal leave with annual leave or long service leave, or ask your manager if you can take unpaid leave.
For more information about your leave entitlements, visit Fair Work Ombudsman.
Discrimination in the workplace due to cancer and its treatment is generally unlawful. This includes denying you a promotion, demoting you to a lower paid position, dismissing you or refusing to hire you for a reason related to cancer. An employer may be able to lawfully discriminate against you if you are unable to do the key parts of your job in the foreseeable future due to cancer or its treatment.
If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, talk to your employer. If you’re not happy with the response, you can lodge a complaint with your state or territory discrimination agency or the Australian Human Rights Commission.
If you have experienced discrimination, harassment or other disadvantage due to your cancer diagnosis, you may also be able to lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Commission. Most complaints can be resolved through mediation or conciliation (an informal way to negotiate an outcome). If this isn’t successful, you may go to an administrative tribunal or to court for a legal judgment.
If you feel you have been unfairly dismissed from your job, you may be able to lodge an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission. You must lodge claims within 21 days of being dismissed and meet some other conditions (see fwc.gov.au for eligibility requirements).
For more on this, see Cancer, work and you.
Prof Sarah Lewis, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, NSW; Kevin Bloom, Senior Social Worker, Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Danielle Curnoe, Consumer; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Gastro-Intestinal Cancers, Cancer Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Johanna Jordaan, Consumer; Dr Deme Karikios, Medical Oncologist, Nepean Cancer and Wellness Centre, Nepean Hospital, NSW; Melissa Lawrie, Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse, Cancer Services, Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Jacqueline Lesage, Consumer Reviewer, Cancer Voices NSW; McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Louise Pellerade, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Andrew Potter, Consumer; Siân Slade, PhD Candidate, Nossal Institute for Global Health and Non-Executive Director (health, disability sectors), VIC; Paula Watt, Clinical Psychologist, WOMEN Centre, WA.
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