Cancer and work

Information for working carers

Many carers are also employed. Your caring duties and your job may both be important and necessary parts of your life but sometimes people find it difficult to balance the the demands of caring, family and work.

If you want more information after reading this page, see Caring for Someone with Cancer.

Being a working carer

A working carer combines paid employment with unpaid personal care, assistance and support to a person who needs this help because of an illness or disability.

There are many different types of caring situations:

  • you may be a partner, relative, friend or neighbour
  • the person you are caring for may also be employed or you may be looking after someone who isn’t in the workforce
  • care can be part-time or full-time, over a short period of time or long term
  • the support can be practical (such as preparing meals, shopping and managing medicines), emotional or spiritual.

Working and caring

You will need to weigh up your ability to handle both your caring commitments and your responsibilities at work. See a list of things to consider. Caring can affect your job in various ways. It may affect your working hours, what you can achieve at work, how much time off you need, your concentration, and your emotional and physical wellbeing.

Your decision will probably depend on these issues:

  • how sick the person with cancer is
  • what your caring and work duties involve
  • the amount of help or respite care available
  • how supportive your employer is
  • your finances and whether you need to earn an income
  • your leave entitlements
  • whether you can reduce or change your working hours or move to a different position within your organisation
  • the satisfaction you get from working
  • whether a break will have a large impact on your career progression or future employability
  • what will give you peace of mind
  • whether the arrangment is likely to be temporary or long term.

Before making changes to your working arrangements, talk over your thoughts with your employer, family and friends. You can also ask the Carers Association in your state or territory for support and counselling. Visit Carers Australia or call their support line on 1800 242 636.

Who is covered?

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, carer’s leave is available for these people:

  • immediate family members – an employee’s spouse, de facto partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling (or the child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the employee’s spouse or de facto partner)
  • household members – any person who lives with the employee.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 also protects carers of people with cancer from workplace discrimination, including family members (spouse, de facto partner and other relatives) and unrelated carers who provide assistance to a person affected by cancer. State and territory anti-discrimination laws generally provide similar protection, except in the Northern Territory.

Talking to your employer

You don’t have to tell your employer that you are a carer but talking to your employer about your caring duties may help them be more understanding and accommodating of your needs. It may also help you to access carer’s leave and flexible working arrangements. Before talking to your employer, investigate the policies your workplace has for employees with caring responsibilities or what your award says.

You might discuss these points:

  • the effect of your caring role on your work commitments
  • taking time off or setting up flexible working arrangements
  • if the caring role is likely to be short term or long term
  • ways your employer may be able to support you
  • the benefits for your employer if you stay in your position
  • who else at work should know about your situation.

If you are thinking about resigning, talk to your employer. They may not want to lose you and may suggest some options to help you remain at work that you hadn’t thought about.

If you tell your co-workers about your caring role, they may be a source of support or provide some ideas for how the team can adapt to your changed needs. Some of your colleagues may also be working carers. If you prefer to keep your caring role confidential, your employer needs to respect your wishes.

Flexible working arrangements
  • Carers have the right under the Fair Work Act 2009 to request adjustments to their work hours, work location or pattern of work, if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months.
  • You need to ask in writing, giving details of the change you want and the reasons for this requested change.
  • Suggest realistic and workable options that show you have thought about how the needs of the workplace can also be met.
  • Your employer needs to accept or refuse your request in writing within 21 days of receiving it.
  • Your employer should take reasonable steps to accommodate your caring responsibilities. They can refuse your request on reasonable business grounds only, and they have to tell you their reasons.
  • Talk to your manager or human resources department to see if you can arrange some flexible work practices.
  • Many employers are aware of the challenges working carers face. Your manager may try to be flexible.
  • See more information on protections for carers under anti-discrimination laws.

Taking time off work

You may need time off work or to stop working for some time to look after the person with cancer. If you need to take a day off to care for a member of your family or household, you can use personal leave, which includes sick leave and carer’s leave.

The National Employment Standards outline the rules for personal leave. These include allocating 10 days of paid personal leave each year to full-time employees. Part-time employees receive this entitlement on a pro-rata (proportional) basis, based on the number of hours they work. You must let your employer know that you are taking the leave, and your employer may require a medical certificate or other evidence confirming the need to take the leave.

If you’re considering using annual leave or long-service leave, you may want to talk to your employer about your situation. It might be possible to organise flexible working arrangements (see above) or take unpaid leave so you don’t have to use all of your paid entitlements.

See more information about the different types of leave available under the National Employment Standards.

Unpaid leave

If you’ve used all of your paid personal leave, you are entitled to two days unpaid carer’s leave. These days are reserved for caring duties. Both casual and permanent employees are entitled to this leave. You can take the leave all at once (two working days in a row) or in separate periods as agreed by your employer (for example, a half-day once a week for four weeks).

If you ask for paid personal leave or unpaid carer’s leave, your employer can request basic facts about why you need time off. They may require medical documentation supporting a request for extended leave. This allows them to approve the leave and make sure it’s recorded correctly.

If you need more time off and you have used your personal leave and unpaid carer’s leave, you can apply for leave without pay. Keep in mind that your employer doesn’t have to approve this request.

Financial help for carers

Working carers often depend on their income to support their family and the person who is unwell. If your income drops because you need to take time off work, there are some options:

  • call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 to see what support may be available
  • Centrelink supports carers with a range of payments, including the Carer Payment and Carer Allowance. To check eligibility requirements, call 132 717 or visit
  • contact the National Debt Helpline (call 1800 007 007) or the Rural Financial Counselling Service (call 1800 686 175) for free, confidential financial counselling
  • seek professional help from a financial counsellor to set up a budget
  • speak to a social worker to see what assistance is available
  • you may be able to get early access to your superannuation fund if you are caring for a dependant, such as a child. Make sure you get financial advice about how this may affect your retirement and your ability to claim on any insurance policies linked to your superannuation. Contact your fund for more details.

See Cancer and Your Finances for more information.

Support for carers

There is a wide range of support available to help you with both the practical and emotional aspects of your caring role. The availability of services varies depending on where you live. Some services are free but others may have a cost.
Cancer Council
Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or visit your local Cancer Council website to find out more about carers’ services. You can also find online peer support at
Carers Associations

Carers Australia works with the Carers Associations in each state and territory to provide services to carers. These include short-term counselling and information on respite and other services. Call 1800 242 636 or visit

Respite services
Respite care is available to give you a break. It can be for a couple of hours, overnight or several days. You can use respite care for any reason, such as looking after your own health, visiting friends or going to appointments. The Carer Gateway provides information about respite and other support services; call them on 1800 422 737. Oncology social workers can also offer support and refer you to appropriate services.

Looking after yourself

It can be difficult to find the time to look after your own health and wellbeing when you are trying to balance the demands of your job with your caring responsibilities. Maintaining your fitness and eating well will help you cope with the demands of both roles.

Tips for working carers
  • Talk to your employer about flexible working arrangements, job-sharing or reducing your working hours.
  • If you feel guilty about working, focus on the rewarding and satisfying aspects of both your caring role and your job.
  • Share your feelings with family, friends, workmates or a counsellor.
  • You may be able to talk to a counsellor through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), either through your workplace or the workplace of the person you are caring for.
  • Accept help from your workmates when it is offered.
  • Try to take some time out for yourself each day.
  • Plan respite care in advance so you can have a break.
  • Look after your health and wellbeing by eating well, seeing your doctor when you need to and trying to get enough sleep.
  • Try some complementary therapies, such as massage, relaxation or meditation. Call 13 11 20 for more information and audio CDs.
  • Shop online to save time and energy.
  • Stay involved in activities you enjoy. It’s a good stress relief and will give you something else to think and talk about aside from caring.
  • For more tips on combining work and care, visit and search for “Working while caring”.
"My employer has an assistance program with six free counselling sessions. I’d recommend that to anyone – just having someone to lean on and talk to is helpful." – Stephen

Key points

  • Whether you are able to work may depend on many factors, such as how sick the person with cancer is, whether the caring role is temporary or long term, your caring duties, your role at work and your finances.
  • You don’t have to tell your employer or co-workers that you are a carer but it may give them an opportunity to provide support.
  • Permanent employees can take paid personal leave if they need to take time off work to care for someone in their immediate family or household.
  • Eligible employees can also use annual leave, long-service leave and unpaid leave.
  • Talk to your employer about flexible working arrangements. You may be able to adjust your work location, hours or role
  • Talk to your employer, family and friends, and seek professional financial advice before deciding to resign.
  • Carers can get financial support from organisations such as Centrelink. It may also help to seek advice from a financial professional.
  • Carers Australia provides a range of information as well as practical help, including short-term counselling.
  • The Carer Gateway can connect you with specific support services in your local area, such as counselling, home help, respite services and support groups.

Expert content reviewers:

Kerryann White, Manager, People and Culture, Cancer Council SA; Nicola Martin, Principal, McCabe Curwood, NSW; Jane Auchettl, Coordinator, Education and Training Programs, Cancer Council Victoria; Craig Brewer, Consumer; Alana Cochrane, Human Resources Business Partner, Greater Bank Newcastle, NSW; Shona Gates, Senior Social Worker, North West Cancer Centre, North West Regional Hospital, TAS; Dianne Head, Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Metastatic Breast Cancer, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre Westmead, NSW; Alex Kelly, Talent Acquisition Business Partner, Aon, NSW; Prof Bogda Koczwara AM, Senior Staff Specialist, Department of Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; Sharyn McGowan, Occupational Therapist, Bendigo Health, VIC; Jeanne Potts, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Michelle Smerdon, Legal and Financial Support Services Manager, Cancer Council NSW.

Download PDF Order FREE booklet 

Talking bubbles icon

Questions about cancer?

Call or email our experienced cancer nurses for information and support.

Contact a cancer nurse