- Cancer Information
- Practical concerns
- Cancer, work and you
- For workers
- Returning to work
- Changing jobs
Cancer can make you rethink your career goals and work values. Some people won’t return to the same job because of changes in ability or length of time away. Others decide a new job is an opportunity for a fresh start, or that they want a less stressful or more meaningful job.
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Before looking for a new job, you may want to ask yourself:
- Does my illness mean I need to look for a new type of work?
- What abilities, skills and experience can I offer a new employer?
- Will I need to update my skills or education?
- Is there a market for someone with my skills in my chosen field?
- Would I be happy with a lower-level position or fewer hours?
- Can I afford to live on a lower salary?
- How would I manage the stress of a change in employment?
- Does my confidence need a boost?
- Will I need more support (e.g. new equipment or extra breaks)?
- How many hours a week am I able to work?
- Do I want or need to tell a new employer about my cancer treatment?
Think about ways of working that may suit you, such as job-sharing, volunteering, self-employment, part-time or agency work. You could talk to co-workers and referees who know your work and can be honest about your skills. Or contact a career counsellor, or a JobAccess adviser on 1800 464 800. Cancer Council may be able to refer you to a recruitment professional for support. Call 13 11 20 to find out more.
Below are some tips that may help you prepare for a job interview.
- Consider seeing a career counsellor or social worker to practise job interviews. They can tell you your strengths, skills and your abilities.
- Think about what you may say if asked about a gap in your work history or résumé (CV). Some people write “career break” rather than leaving the time unexplained.
- Keep explanations general and straightforward – don’t tell a long-winded story. You might want to say that you took some time off for personal reasons.
- If you are asked a direct question about your health history, consider answering: “I have no health problems that would affect me performing this job” or “I have medical clearance to perform this type of work”.
- If you have an obvious physical impairment, consider letting the interview panel know how you are able to perform the specific job responsibilities.
- It is illegal to ask any question that may be seen as discriminatory, including about someone’s health. But an employer can ask if there are any support or accessibility needs they would have to meet to support you in the role.
- Being up-front with your employer can make it easier to negotiate any necessary adjustments to the workplace or time off for medical appointments.
- If you don’t get the job and you believe it is because of the cancer diagnosis and treatment, you can complain to the employer, the discrimination agency in your state or territory, the Australian Human Rights Commission or the Fair Work Ombudsman. However, these types of complaints are often unsuccessful as it’s hard to prove why you weren’t hired.
At the time of the diagnosis, I was working as an office manager, but afterwards we reassessed our life. I changed jobs and we moved house. I now work in aged care, which I love.Jodie
You may want to tell a new employer that you have had cancer, but you don’t have to unless it impacts your ability to do the job. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because of a disability, which includes cancer.
You only need to tell the employer about:
- anything that may affect your ability to perform tasks that are an essential part of the job (e.g. if you can lift heavy boxes or drive a car)
- any health and safety risks for yourself or others
- any adjustments you may need to help you do your job (e.g. ergonomic tools or a height-adjustable bench).
There will probably be a gap in your résumé (CV) if you did not work during cancer treatment. Be prepared for a potential employer to ask about this. It’s common for people to have breaks in their employment history because of travel, having children or other personal reasons, so the employer may not ask about it.
Your employer does not need to know details about your personal life unless it is relevant to the job. This also applies for any employment forms that ask for health information. In this case, you only need to write down anything that may affect you ability to do your job, as outlined above.
If you are unable to return to your previous job after treatment:
- you may be able to attend a rehabilitation or retraining program to prepare you for another job
- you may be eligible for a payout if you have disability insurance or income protection insurance
- you may consider retiring
- you may want to access your superannuation early if you are eligible
- you could contact your super fund to see if you have any insurance
- you may be able to get support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) if your disability is permanent and significant; for information, call 1800 800 110.
- contact Centrelink on 132 717 or visit servicesaustralia.gov.au to see if you are eligible for the Disability Support Pension or other payment.
Podcast for people affected by cancer
Brooke Russell, Principal Occupational Therapist, WA Cancer Occupational Therapy, WA; Bianca Alessi, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Prunella Blinman, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; James Chirgwin, Physiotherapist, The Wesley Hospital, QLD; Danielle Curnoe, Consumer; Simon Gates, Barrister, Tasmanian Bar, TAS; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Kaylene Jacques, Director, People and Communications, Cancer Council NSW; Alex Kelly, Senior People Attraction Advisor, Human Resources, Allianz Australia Insurance, NSW; Legal reviewer; Georgina Lohse, Social Worker, GV Health, VIC; Lesley McQuire, Consumer, Cancer Voices NSW.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.