- Cancer Information
- Practical concerns
- Cancer, work and you
- For workers
- Returning to work after treatment
- Going back to work after cancer treatment
Going back to work after cancer treatment
You may be concerned about how your employer and co-workers 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 make changes (known as reasonable adjustments) to accommodate the effects of an employee’s cancer diagnosis – 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 ergonomic work tools.
It’s a good idea to speak with your GP, cancer specialist or an occupational physician about whether you are able to undertake your usual tasks. Your employer can request a medical examination to show you are fit for work or to identify any changes they need to make to accommodate your needs. They don’t have the right to request full unrestricted access to your medical records.
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Your employer should allow you to return to work if you have a medical certificate saying you’re fit to return to work, and you can perform the essential parts (inherent requirements) of your job with reasonable changes to the workplace.
Your employer may not have to accommodate the effects of the cancer diagnosis and treatment if they can show that any proposed changes would cause them unjustifiable hardship or that you will still not be able to carry out the essential parts of the job even if changes are made.
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.
Work Assist is a free government program. It helps people in danger of losing their job because of illness, injury or disability stay with their current employer. Call 1800 464 800 or visit jobaccess.gov.au for more information. If you have life or income protection insurance, check if it includes rehabilitation cover to help you return to work.
Preparing to return to work
There are things you can do to prepare to return to work:
- maintain 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, practise 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.
Kerryann White, Manager, People and Culture, Cancer Council SA; Nicola Martin, Principal, McCabe Curwood, NSW; Jane Auchettl, Coordinator, Education and Training Programs, Cancer Council Victoria; Craig Brewer, Consumer; Alana Cochrane, Human Resources Business Partner, Greater Bank Newcastle, NSW; Shona Gates, Senior Social Worker, North West Cancer Centre, North West Regional Hospital, TAS; Dianne Head, Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Metastatic Breast Cancer, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre Westmead, NSW; Alex Kelly, Talent Acquisition Business Partner, Aon, NSW; Prof Bogda Koczwara AM, Senior Staff Specialist, Department of Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; Sharyn McGowan, Occupational Therapist, Bendigo Health, VIC; Jeanne Potts, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Michelle Smerdon, Legal and Financial Support Services Manager, Cancer Council NSW. We would also like to than the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Exercise and cancer
Exercise has many benefits both during and after cancer treatment, helping with side effects, speeding up recovery, and improving quality of life