Health and finances

Work and cancer

Workplace Rights

Many people fear that they will face discrimination if they tell their employer they have cancer. Others fear being dismissed because they need time off work for treatment or to care for someone with cancer. While many employers and co-workers are caring and supportive, discrimination in the workplace can occur. Knowing your rights and responsibilities may help reassure you that you are being treated fairly. 

If you are an employee with a cancer diagnosis, it is important you:

  • Ask your employer (HR department as appropriate) about your statutory rights, in particular how much paid and unpaid time off you are entitled to.
  • Get information from your doctors and other health professionals about your cancer, the likely effects of the cancer and whether it will make it difficult for you to work.
  • Ask if the organisation can provide any other relevant benefits that could help you.
  • Verify that the information and advice you have obtained from your employer is comprehensive and up to date; use independent sources such as a trade union, professional association or solicitor.
  • Keep a work diary of key meetings, tasks, important conversations, time, leave taken and appointments.
  • Use and conserve your energy wisely; you are not much good at work when you are absolutely exhausted. It’s less likely that you will make good decisions and more likely that you’ll make some mistakes. Consider using a ‘Fatigue Diary’ or include this as an element in a work diary.
  • Give your employer as much notice as you can when you need to take time off. This makes it easier for the organisation to make more flexible arrangements.

You are not legally obliged to tell your employer if you have cancer; however, if you choose not to do so and the cancer and its treatment affects your ability to do your job properly, this could have the potential to cause problems for you.

If you tell your employer about a cancer diagnosis but do not want your workmates to know, your right to privacy should be respected. If you want your workmates to know about a diagnosis but don’t feel able to do this yourself, you can ask the HR manager or another manager, or one of your closer workmates to do this for you.

Take the time off/days off that you need to feel better, then go back when you are ready. Organise your important and relevant information in a special file or folder.

If you need advice about discrimination in the workplace talk to a social worker, solicitor, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), Department of Social Security or a local community health or welfare centre.

If you need to find a lawyer who specialises in this area you can check the website of the Federal Court of Australia and check the section ‘Information for Litigants’ which contains many useful links.

You can also check with the various Law Societies and Institutes for individual states and territories who provide referrals to specialist lawyers (see URLs provided in this section).

Important Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure that information included here was correct at the time of publication, however please seek your own legal advice, as necessary.


Rights, Responsibilities and Tips for Employees

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