Returning to work after cancer treatment

You may be concerned about how your employer and colleagues will react, and if there will be questions about your ability to perform your usual role.

You may consider returning to work gradually, increasing your hours and duties as you become stronger, or you may feel ready to resume your old workload.

All employers are legally required to take reasonable steps to accommodate the effects of an employee’s illness – see Workplace rights. This may mean, for example, that your employer allows you to return to work in stages, is flexible with start and finish times, gives you time off to attend medical appointments, or provides a supportive chair.

It’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about your capacity to undertake your usual tasks. Your employer can request a medical examination to show you are fit for work, but does not have the right to request full unrestricted access to your medical records.

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Does my employer have to take me back?

Your employer must allow you to return to work if you:

  • have a medical certificate saying you’re fit to return to work
  • can perform the inherent requirements of your job with reasonable adjustments to the workplace.

Your employer may not have to accommodate the effects of your illness if they can show that any proposed adjustments would result in ‘unjustifiable hardship’ to the organisation.

If you are unable to carry out your previous role, your employer may offer a rehabilitation scheme to train you for another role. Your employer is only required to offer you a different role if the cancer is work-related.

Job in Jeopardy Assistance is a free government service for people in danger of losing their job because of illness, injury or disability. The program can help with a workplace assessment, job redesign or specialised equipment to help you stay with your current employer. See for more information.

Preparing to return to work

  • Do things that are part of a healthy lifestyle – exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, do enjoyable activities, and take time for yourself each day.
  • Live as if going to work – get up at your regular work time, dress in your work clothes, practice travelling to work, and do tasks similar to your work tasks.
  • Get help becoming work ready – see an exercise physiologist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, or rehabilitation specialist.

Making a return to work plan

When you are ready to return to work, contact your employer about preparing a return to work plan. A return to work plan is a helpful document prepared by you, your doctor and your employer (or a rehabilitation professional) outlining your approach to returning to work.

The plan is tailored to your specific situation and needs, and is reviewed regularly.

The following may be included in your written return to work plan:

  • your job title and location
  • approximate date of return to work
  • time period of the plan
  • your goals and abilities
  • a summary of duties
  • start, finish and break times
  • any specific restrictions or recommendations as stated by your health care team
  • any short-term changes to your terms and conditions of employment (e.g. leave, remuneration) as a result of your rehabilitation
  • any training needs
  • any potential triggers within your role that could create additional stress, harm or prevent your recovery
  • details of the supervisors
  • or managers responsible for monitoring progress of the return to work plan
  • dates of regular meetings to discuss progress and adjustments to the plan if needed.

To find out more, see the Australian Government’s JobAccess website or WorkSafe NSW.

Read more about making a return to work plan

This information was last reviewed in January 2017
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