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Working after treatment ends
Work is an important part of life for many people. Aside from income, work can provide satisfaction, a sense of normality, a means of maintaining self-esteem, and a chance to socialise.
If you took time off work for treatment and are returning to an existing job, talk to your employer about a return to work plan. It’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about your capacity to undertake your usual tasks.
For some people, returning to the same job may not be possible due to changes in ability and length of time away. The desire to reduce work-related stress or seek more meaningful work may also motivate people to change jobs.
Learn more about:
- Do I have a right to return to my job?
- Must I disclose I had cancer in job applications?
- What if I can no longer work?
- Discrimination at work
Australian laws require an employer to take reasonable steps to accommodate the effects of an employee’s illness, e.g. providing new office equipment or making adjustments to your workstation.
If you are unable to carry out your previous role, your employer doesn’t have to offer you a different job unless your cancer is work-related.
While some people may want to tell a potential employer that they have had cancer, you don’t need to unless it is relevant to the position. If you are asked about a gap in your résumé, you can say that you had a health issue and it’s now resolved.
A prospective employer is permitted to ask you about your ability to perform tasks that are an essential part of the job, e.g. lifting heavy boxes. If some tasks are a problem for you because of the cancer or treatment, it’s best to mention this at the interview.
If cancer or its treatment has made it impossible to return to your previous work, then rehabilitation and retraining programs can prepare you for another job. Your employer may have a rehabilitation scheme or you could discuss this with your GP. You may be eligible for a payout through your income protection insurance. If you are unable to return to work, contact Centrelink on 132 717 to see if you are eligible for the Disability Support Pension or other payments.
A lack of knowledge about cancer may mean some people are treated differently at work after a cancer diagnosis. Employers and colleagues may think you need more time off or wonder about your ability to work and perform your usual role.
Anyone who has had cancer is protected by the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992, which prevents employers from discriminating against people with disabilities in the workplace.
For further advice:
- speak to a social worker, union official or solicitor
- contact the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board or Australian Human Rights Commission
- visit the Fairwork Ombudsman
- call 13 11 20, or see Cancer, work and you
- download our Workplace Fact Sheets — these fact sheets assist employers and workplaces to provide a supportive and fair work environment for people affected by cancer.
Dr Haryana Dhillon, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Medical Psychology & Evidence-based Decision-making, School of Psychology, University of Sydney, NSW; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Jessica Barbon, Dietitian, Southern Adelaide Health Network, SA; Dr Anna Burger, Liaison Psychiatrist and Senior Staff Specialist, Psycho-oncology Clinic, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, ACT; Elizabeth Dillon, Social Worker, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Prof Paul Glare, Chair in Pain Medicineand Director, Pain Management Research Institute, University of Sydney, NSW; Nico le Kinnane, Nurse Coordinator, Gynaecology Services, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Amanda Piper, Manager, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Kyle Smith, Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Edith Cowan University, WA; Aaron Tan, Consumer; Dr Kate Webber, Medical Oncologist and Research Director, National Centre for Cancer Survivorship, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.
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Cancer and its treatment can affect many aspects of a person’s life, including work. If you are a worker or employer learn more about managing work after a cancer diagnosis.
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