Legal, financial & workplace concerns

Sunday 1 April, 2018

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On this page: Financial assistance | Insurance | Working after treatment ends | Survivorship programs | Key points


After any serious illness, people may have concerns about financial issues, insurance policies, superannuation and work.

Financial assistance

For many people, cancer treatment can be a financial strain. This may be caused by extra out-of-pocket costs for medicine or travel expenses, or from loss of income. These extra costs can cause you and your family a lot of stress, but support is available:

  • Your local Cancer Council may be able to organise legal and financial advice (see below).
  • Ask your social worker about any financial or practical assistance available to you.
  • Call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 for free, confidential and independent financial counselling.
  • Talk to your superannuation fund about applying for an early release of your superannuation savings on the grounds of severe financial hardship.
  • Talk to your utility company, loan provider or local council about how they might be able to help you manage payment of your bills or loans.
  • See Cancer and Your Finances for more detailed information.

Insurance

Applying for new insurance (life, income protection or travel) may be harder because you have had cancer. You are generally required to provide your medical history, including your cancer diagnosis.

In general, you should be able to buy insurance for things that are not related to your cancer (like travel insurance for lost luggage, or life insurance for accidental death). It may be difficult to buy travel insurance that covers cancer-related medical problems, but you should be able to get coverage for non-cancer-related medical costs.

It is a good idea to check exactly what is covered before purchasing a new insurance policy. For more information about insurance, download a copy of the New insurance policies fact sheet from your local Cancer Council website.

Legal, financial and workplace support

Cancer Council's Legal, Financial, Small Business and Workplace Referral Service may be able to help if you or someone in your family had cancer, and you need financial, legal or workplace advice.

We can connect you with professionals to assist you with: credit and debt issues, mortgage hardship variations, insurance claims and disputes, managing workplace issues, and transitioning to retirement.

Call 13 11 20 to find out what services are available in your area and whether you are eligible for this assistance.

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.

Do I have a right to return to my job?

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.

Must I disclose I had cancer in job applications?

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 rÈsumÈ, 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.

What if I can no longer work?

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.

Discrimination at work

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 your state or territory anti-discrimination body or visit
  • the Australian Human Rights Commission at humanrights.gov.au
  • visit the Fair Work Ombudsman at fairwork.gov.au
  • see Cancer, Work & You or call Cancer Council 13 11 20
  • download Cancer Council's online Workplace Fact Sheets from your local Cancer Council website. These fact sheets assist employers and workplaces to provide a supportive and fair work environment for people affected by cancer.

Survivorship programs

Free education programs for cancer patients and survivors are available in some treatment facilities or community centres. Your local Cancer Council may also offer online webinars.

These programs present information about cancer and its treatment, as well as practical information about life after cancer. They are usually also open to carers, family, friends and work colleagues. You may find it helpful to share tips and ideas with other participants.

Your local Cancer Council may offer programs providing information about living well after cancer (e.g. ENRICHing Survivorship, Healthy Living After Cancer, Wellness and Life After Cancer, Life Now). These may include sessions on nutrition, exercises to help improve quality of life, mindfulness and adjusting to life following cancer treatment. Call 13 11 20 to find out what services are available in your state or territory.

"Really enjoyed the program. I feel after treatment there is a gap in support for getting back to normal life, I liked that it wasn't `you have to make major changes' because you don't stick to it, small changes over time." – Ashley

Talk to someone who's been there

Getting in touch with other people who have had similar experiences to you can be helpful.

In a support setting, you may find that you are comfortable talking about your diagnosis and treatment, relationships with friends and family, and hopes and fears for the future. Some people say they can be even more open and honest because they aren't trying to protect their loved ones.

Types of support

There are many ways to connect with others for mutual support and to share information. These include:

  • face-to-face support groups – often held in community centres or hospitals
  • peer support programs – match you with someone who has had a similar cancer experience, e.g. Cancer Connect group education programs for survivors – often delivered by your local Cancer Council, programs such as Wellness and Life After Cancer or ENRICHing Survivorship can help you meet others in a similar situation
  • online forums – provide the opportunity to connect with other people anywhere and anytime, e.g. Cancer Council Online Community at cancercouncil.com.au/OC.

Talk to your health care team or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to find out about support groups and survivorship programs in your area.

Key points

  • If you have financial problems, you may be able to get assistance through payments or subsidies. Talk to a social worker or financial counsellor if you are struggling with debts.
  • Insurance that covers cancer-related problems may be harder to get.
  • Cancer survivors should be able to get travel insurance, but the terms and conditions will vary depending on your condition and the insurer.
  • A written return to work plan can be a helpful guide for you and your employer.
  • You don't have to disclose a cancer diagnosis when applying for a new job unless it is relevant to the position.
  • When returning to work, your employer must make reasonable adjustments to help you do your job.
  • Let your employer know about any workplace adjustments you may need to help you carry out your job.
  • If you are unable to return to your previous position, consider attending a rehabilitation or retraining program.
  • You should not be treated differently in the workplace on the basis of your cancer diagnosis. The Disability Discrimination Act protects anyone who has had cancer.
  • Cancer Council's Referral Service may be able to help with legal, financial, small business, and workplace advice. Some services may not be available in all states or areas. Call 13 11 20 for more information.
  • See Cancer, Work & You and Cancer and Your Finances for more information.

R eviewed by:   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 Medicine and Director, Pain Management Research Institute, University of Sydney, NSW; Nicole 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.

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