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Cancer, work and you

Working during treatment or recovery

If you want to work during treatment or return to work after it’s finished, you may consider flexible ways of working or using leave entitlements.

Flexible ways of working

Under the National Employment Standards (NES), you have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements if you have at least 12 months of continuous service with your employer. Long-term casual employees may also ask for flexible working arrangements. The Fair Work Ombudsman’s website has more information.

Some examples of flexible ways of working include:

  • allowing you to work from home some or all days
  • allowing you to reduce the hours you work or change your start, finish or break times
  • allowing you to work from another office or suitable location
  • allowing you to vary your hours, split shifts, work part-time or job-share
  • allowing you to not work certain days or times if you are a casual worker
  • allowing you to work alternative duties, or avoid certain aspects of your role.

An occupational therapist can identify flexible ways of working for you to suggest to your employer, and help you liaise with them. You must make a request in writing, detailing the changes needed and why. Changes should be reasonable and workable for you and your employer.

Your employer needs to accept or refuse your request in writing within 21 days of receiving it. The only reason they can refuse your request is on reasonable business grounds, and if they have first discussed it with you and genuinely tried to reach an agreement about accommodating your circumstances. If your employer refuses your request and you don’t think their explanation is reasonable, you may be able to seek assistance from the Fair Work Commission or the discrimination agency in your state or territory.

After a few weeks of your new schedule, you can catch up with your manager or human resources department to discuss whether the flexible arrangements are working for both you and your employer. You might want to change the arrangement once you know how the treatment is affecting you or as you start to feel better.

Managing flexible working conditions

  • If possible, take a few hours off instead of the whole day.
  • Try to schedule treatment sessions so you have more recovery time, such as late in the day or before your days off.
  • Explore working from home. Not having to commute may help you feel less tired.
  • Write down the plan you and your employer have agreed on, and then both sign it.
  • Let co-workers know about changes to your work hours.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, don’t let your performance suffer too much before re-assessing your work arrangements.
  • Look for tools to help you work remotely: for example, using a smartphone to get your emails, copying files to the cloud or working on a laptop.
“With the support of my family and workplace, I was able to schedule the radiation therapy appointments before work.” – Christine

Leave entitlements

There are several types of leave options available to help you balance work and treatment. The National Employment Standards (NES) outline the rules for leave under most awards or enterprise agreements.

Entitlements offered under awards or agreements may be different from those provided by the NES but can’t be less. You should check the terms of your agreement.

Managing your leave

  • If you are a new employee, ask your manager or human resources department if there is a waiting (qualifying) period for paid personal leave.
  • Give as much notice as possible before applying for or taking leave.
  • Combine personal leave with annual leave and long-service leave, if necessary.
  • If you don’t have enough paid leave, ask your manager if you can take unpaid time off.
  • Check with your employer if you can "cash out" your annual leave and any conditions that apply. This is only possible if your award or agreement says that cashing out is allowable.
  • Know your rights. It is generally against the law to dismiss someone for taking leave for illness.
  • If you believe your employer isn’t giving you the correct amount of personal or annual leave, check your entitlements. Contact the Fair Work Ombudsman on 13 13 94.

Types of leave entitlements

There are four main types of leave available to full-time and part-time employees. Casual staff are not able to take most of these leave options. For more information about your entitlements under the National Employment Standards (NES), see the Fair Work Ombudsman website or check your employment contract.


  • Can be taken when you are unwell or injured, or if you need to care for an immediate family or household member.
  • Permanent full-time employees receive a minimum of 10 days of paid personal leave each year.
  • Part-time employees receive a pro-rata (proportional) amount of personal leave days based on the number of hours they work.
  • Paid personal leave is an entitlement for all employees except casuals.
  • This type of leave is paid at the employee’s base rate of pay.
  • An employer can ask you to provide proof that you need to take personal leave (such as a medical certificate).
  • Unused leave days carry over (accumulate or accrue) from year to year, but is not paid out when you leave your job.
  • Employees can take as much leave as they have accumulated.
  • An employer cannot dismiss you from your job or take any negative action against you because you use your paid personal leave.
  • Full-time and part-time employees may take two days of paid compassionate leave when an immediate family or household member dies or has a life-threatening illness or injury.


  • Also known as holiday pay.
  • Paid annual leave is an entitlement for all employees except casuals. Full‑time employees receive a minimum of four weeks of paid annual leave for each year of service with their employer. Part-time staff receive leave on a pro rata (proportional) basis.
  • Annual leave is paid at the employee’s base rate of pay. Under some awards or agreements, employees are paid an increased rate (leave loading).
  • Unused annual leave accumulates over time. Your employer can direct you to use annual leave but the request must be reasonable.
  • Annual leave continues to accumulate when you take paid leave, but doesn’t accumulate during periods of unpaid leave.
  • An employee must apply for annual leave before taking it.
  • An employer must approve annual leave unless they have reasonable grounds to refuse it.
  • If you leave your employer, any unused annual leave will be paid out.


  • A period of paid leave after you’ve worked continually for the same employer for an extended period of time. This leave may apply after 7–10 years, and in some cases you may be able to transfer long service leave from one employer to another.
  • If you have worked for the same employer for an extended period of time and resign due to illness, you may be entitled to a pro rata long-service leave payment. This may apply after 5–7 years.
  • The amount of leave and the lengths of service required are different depending on which state or territory you live in.
  • Long-service leave is paid at the employee’s ordinary rate of pay. In some cases you may be able to take a longer period of leave at half-pay.
  • Once you are entitled to take long-service leave, any unused leave is usually paid out when you leave your employer.
  • Periods of unpaid leave do not count towards continuous service for the accumulation of long-service leave.


  • If you have used all your paid personal leave or if you are a casual employee, your employer might grant you leave from work without pay. This is not an entitlement – it is up to your employer to allow it.
  • Full-time and part-time employees must use all their paid personal leave before they can take unpaid carer's leave.
  • Annual and personal leave do not usually accumulate when you are on unpaid leave.
  • All employees are entitled to two days of unpaid carer’s leave. This leave can be taken each time a member of an employee’s immediate family or household needs care and support because of illness, injury or an emergency.
  • Casual employees can take two days of unpaid compassionate leave when an immediate family or household member dies or has a life-threatening illness or injury.

Compensation for work-related cancer

About 5000 people in Australia are diagnosed with work-related cancer each year. Work-related cancers can result from exposure to sunlight, toxic dusts and some chemicals (including asbestos, heavy metals, diesel engine exhaust, solvents and pesticides) and ionising radiation.

If you have been diagnosed with a work-related cancer, you may be entitled to workers compensation. It’s important to get legal advice from a lawyer who specialises in workers compensation matters. To make a claim, notify your state or territory WorkSafe authority about your cancer and why you think it is work-related. In some states, you may lodge a claim with your employer. A time limit may apply, so get advice early.

For more information, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Check your insurance

Disability or income protection insurance pays a portion of your income if you can’t work. You may have a policy, or it may be part of your superannuation. Find out from your employer or superannuation fund:

  • your superannuation balance
  • if you have income protection insurance (or salary continuance)
  • the amount or percentage of pay (e.g. they pay 80% of your salary)
  • how soon a claim is paid (usually after 60 or 90 days of not working)
  • how many years it will pay you for.

Some people have insurance on their mortgage or credit card that makes repayments if you can’t. Ask your bank/creditor if this applies to you. If you are thinking of resigning from your job, check any insurance coverage first, because leaving work may affect your entitlements.

See our Cancer and Your Finances booklet for more information about finances, insurance and superannuation, and speak to a financial adviser for advice.

Key points


  • It can be hard to decide if you want to keep working, change your hours, take a break, resign or retire.
  • Consider what you require to do your job, the impact of cancer on your day-to-day life, treatment time, travel and side effects, any workplace flexibility, your leave entitlements and personal matters.
  • Avoid making a hasty decision. Talk to family or friends and get professional advice before deciding.


  • Talk to your health care team about balancing work and cancer treatment. Doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, counsellors or social workers can give you information about coping with treatment.
  • Talk to your employer about flexible ways of working. You may be able to change where you work, your work hours or parts of your role.
  • Think about your work arrangements once you know how your treatment is affecting you. Discuss any changes with your employer.
  • Your employer must keep your illness confidential unless you give permission for them to tell people.


  • Several types of leave options are available to help you balance work and treatment – check your entitlements with your manager or human resources department.
  • Permanent employees may take personal leave when they can’t come to work due to illness. This used to be called sick leave.
  • Eligible employees can also use annual leave, long-service leave and unpaid leave.
  • Workplace protections exist for employees who take time off work because they have an illness or injury.
  • Your employer can't take negative action against you because you use your leave entitlements.


Cancer, Work and You

Download our Cancer, Work and You booklet to learn more and find support.

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Expert content reviewers:

Brooke Russell, Principal Occupational Therapist, WA Cancer Occupational Therapy, WA; Bianca Alessi, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Dr Prunella Blinman, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; James Chirgwin, Physiotherapist, The Wesley Hospital, QLD; Danielle Curnoe, Consumer; Simon Gates, Barrister, Tasmanian Bar, TAS; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Kaylene Jacques, Director, People and Communications, Cancer Council NSW; Alex Kelly, Senior People Attraction Advisor, Human Resources, Allianz Australia Insurance, NSW; Legal reviewer; Georgina Lohse, Social Worker, GV Health, VIC; Lesley McQuire, Consumer, Cancer Voices NSW.

Page last updated:

The information on this webpage was adapted from Cancer, Work and You (2023 edition). This webpage was last updated in July 2023. 

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