- Cancer Information
- Practical concerns
- Cancer care and your rights
- Legal, financial and workplace concerns
- Workplace issues
If you are employed or hope to return to work after treatment, you might wonder how cancer will affect your work life. You may be concerned about your leave entitlements, discrimination, changing your working hours, or unfair dismissal. Some of the issues described here differ between states and territories, and they may depend on the industry you work in. You may need to obtain specific advice about your situation from a lawyer who specialises in employment matters.
For more on this, see Cancer, work and you.
Learn more about:
- Taking leave
- Special arrangements
- Unfair dismissal
- State and territory discrimination agencies
All full-time employees except casuals 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 member. Part-time employees receive this entitlement on a pro rata basis. Employees can take as much personal leave as they have accumulated, though your employer can ask you to provide evidence of your illness.
If you need to take more time off, 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 and what to do if you are prevented from taking leave you have a right to, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman.
In general, discrimination in the workplace due to cancer and treatment is unlawful. This includes denying you a promotion, demoting you to a lower paid job, sacking you or refusing to hire you for a reason related to your cancer.
If you think you’re being discriminated against, try talking with your employer and follow your workplace’s grievance handling policy. If you’re not happy with the response, you can lodge a formal complaint with the discrimination agency in your state or territory or the Australian Human Rights Commission.
If you have been dismissed from your job or experienced other disadvantage due to your cancer diagnosis, you may also be able to lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Commission.
Contact these organisations to see which one is most appropriate for your situation before you lodge a complaint. Most complaints are resolved through mediation or conciliation, which is an informal type of resolution. If mediation doesn’t work, you may go to an administrative tribunal or to court for a legal judgment that must be followed.
Australian laws require an employer to take reasonable steps to accommodate the effects of an employee’s illness and help you perform your job. They can only refuse your request to provide these arrangements if the changes would cause unjustifiable hardship to their business or, in some cases, on reasonable business grounds.
Some examples of flexible working arrangements are:
- making minor changes to your work duties
- allowing you to work from home some or all days
- providing you with additional equipment
- allowing you to vary your hours, work part-time or job share.
An employer can’t pressure you to resign or dismiss you because you have cancer. If you have been 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 www.fwc.gov.au for eligibility requirements).
|ACT Human Rights Commission||hrc.act.gov.au|
|Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW||antidiscrimination.justice.nsw.gov.au|
|Northern Territory Anti- Discrimination Commission||adc.nt.gov.au|
|Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland||adcq.qld.gov.au|
|Equal Opportunity Commission (SA)||eoc.sa.gov.au|
|Equal Opportunity Tasmania||equalopportunity.tas.gov.au|
|Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission||humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au|
|Equal Opportunity Commission (WA)||eoc.wa.gov.au|
Toni Ashmore, Cancer and Ambulatory Services, Canberra Health Services, ACT; Baker McKenzie, Pro Bono Legal Adviser, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Acting Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, South Metropolitan Health Service, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; David Briggs, Consumer; Naomi Catchpole, Social Worker, Metro South Health, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Tarishi Desai, Legal Research Officer, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Kathryn Dwan, Manager, Policy and Research, Health Care Consumers Association, ACT; Hayley Jones, Manager, Treatment and Supportive Care, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Victoria Lear, Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager, Cancer Council NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Need legal and financial assistance?
Pro bono services, financial and legal assistance, and no interest loans
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment