Legal, financial & workplace concerns

Tuesday 1 April, 2014

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On this page: Financial assistance | Insurance and superannuation | Working after treatment ends 


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

Financial assistance

Cancer treatment can be expensive. Stopping work, buying medications, and paying for travelling to treatment may leave some people with financial problems.

If you’re struggling with debts, ask your lender if there is a financial hardship provision. Call Centrelink on 13 27 17 to find out if you are eligible for any benefits. It may also help to see a financial counsellor. Visit www.financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for a free copy of When Cancer Changes your Financial Plans.

Cancer Council’s Pro Bono Program may be able to connect you with a lawyer, financial planner, accountant or HR/recruitment professional if you need help with:

  • legal issues
  • financial planning
  • small business accounting
  • workplace (HR or recruitment) advice
Advice is free for eligible clients. You will need to pass a means test in order to qualify for assistance. Some services may not be available in all states or areas. Call 13 11 20 for more information. 

Insurance and superannuation

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. However, you shouldn’t have problems claiming on policies you had before the diagnosis.

If your mortgage is associated with some kind of insurance, you may need to let your lender know that you had cancer.

Obtaining travel insurance that covers cancer-related medical problems may be difficult, but you should be able to get a policy to cover basics such as lost baggage, theft and cancelled flights.

You may also be able to claim on an insurance policy provided by your superannuation fund. For more information, talk to the fund manager or contact National Legal Aid on 1300 888 529.

"I have a letter from my surgeon recommending I get travel insurance with full coverage. I ask for a new letter at every appointment. The letter states that I had surgery and radiotherapy over a year ago, and the likelihood of recurrence is minimal. I’ve been able to get full coverage with the letter." - Richard

Working after treatment ends

Work is an important part of life for many people. Besides income, work can provide satisfaction, a sense of normality, a means of maintaining personal identity, self-esteem and a chance to socialise. If you took time off work for treatment, you may choose to return to work or get a new job when you have recovered.

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 a supported chair or moving your workstation to the ground floor.

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 that I had cancer when applying for a new position?

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 resume, 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 it at the interview.

What if I can no longer work?

If 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 13 27 17 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.

Anyone who has had cancer is protected by the Disability Discrimination Act, which prevents employers from discriminating against people with disabilities in the workplace.

Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for further information, or for a free copy of Cancer Care and Your Rights or Cancer, Work and You. For further advice, speak to a social worker, union official or solicitor, or contact your anti-discrimination body, Fair Work Australia, or the Human Rights Commission.

Cancer Council’s online Workplace Fact Sheets assist employers and workplaces to provide a supportive and fair work environment for people affected by cancer. Fact sheets can be downloaded from your local Cancer Council website. 

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.
  • You shouldn’t have problems claiming on an insurance policy you had before you were diagnosed with cancer. If you aren’t satisfied with an insurer, you can lodge a complaint or appeal.
  • Cancer survivors can get travel insurance, but the terms and conditions will vary depending on your condition and the insurer.
  • 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.
  • 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 Pro Bono Program 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. 

Reviewed by: A/Prof Jane Turner, Department of Psychiatry, University of Queensland; Polly Baldwin, Cancer Council Nurse, Cancer Council South Australia; Ben Bravery, Cancer Survivor, NSW; Helen Breen, Oncology Social Worker, Shoalhaven Cancer Services, NSW; A/Prof Michael Jefford, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Clinical Director, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre; David Larkin, Clinical Cancer Research Nurse, Canberra Region Cancer Centre; Miranda Park, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Cancer Information and Support Service, Cancer Council Victoria; Merran Williams, Nurse, Bloomhill Integrated Cancer Care, QLD; Iwa Yeung, Physiotherapist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Danny Youlden, Biostatistician, Viertel Cancer Research Centre, Cancer Council Queensland.
Updated: 01 Apr, 2014