Employment and cancer

Retaining, returning to or finding new employment can be problematic for some people who have or have had cancer, and for people who care for someone affected by cancer. While cancer remains a leading cause of death in Australia the survival rate for many common cancers has increased by 30 per cent in the past two decades; as screening services and treatment options improve, it is likely that people will be living longer with a cancer diagnosis. Many people choose to continue working or to return to work after a cancer diagnosis or treatment, but current approaches to facilitate working with cancer or a return to work after cancer may not be sufficiently sensitive to cancer patients’, survivors’ or carers’ needs. 

Key findings

  • Assessing the extent of employment problems for people affected by cancer remains a challenge.
  • Feedback revealed that discrimination is a problem for some people affected by cancer, while most people’s employers have been very supportive when they were diagnosed and having treatment.
  • Among those affected, there is concern about taking time off, losing opportunities and losing their jobs.
  • Relationship and communication problems with employers and colleagues, which were often related to taking time off, were common concerns. These concerns were not limited to patient experience; it appears that some carers also experience difficulties at work.
  • Very few people take formal action about being treated unfairly at work.
  • Stakeholders suggested the following improvements to better support people affected by cancer and their carers in the workplace:
  • greater flexibility, including flexible hours or the ability to work from home;
  • more knowledge, understanding and sympathy among employers and colleagues regarding the effects of a cancer diagnosis and treatment;
  • allowing a staggered return to work and full responsibilities—where this is needed and desired—which recognises the gradual recovery process.


    1. Education programs for employers, people affected by cancer and their colleagues on:
  • The effects of a cancer diagnosis and treatment on an employee;
  • The legal frameworks, rights and responsibilities that apply when an employee or potential employee is affected by cancer, whether personally or as a carer, and practical solutions to common problems.
  1. More research to accurately assess the extent and type of employment problems that people affected by cancer and their carers experience.

Furthermore, there is a case to be made for introducing more flexibility into the timeframes for making a complaint for an unfair, unlawful or general protections dismissal.