Looking for a new job
Looking for a new job after a breast cancer diagnosis can be a positive step forward and also a sign of recovery.
You may decide to return to the same line of work before your diagnosis or perhaps a change to something less stressful or more rewarding is better for you.
There are state-based organisations that can help you to find work.
If you'd like to speak to a career counsellor, BCNA's Helpline can direct you to a service in your area. Call 1800 500 258.
Following treatment, it was time to take a holiday and give myself some time to think about what I wanted to do, rather than what I had to do.
Do I have to disclose my diagnosis?
You do not need to disclose your diagnosis to a potential employer, unless:
- it impacts your ability to perform tasks essential to the job, e.g. if you cannot drive a vehicle, stand for required periods, lift heavy boxes etc.
- it impacts the health and safety of you or others
- you need adjustments to help you do your job, e.g. an ergonomic chair or alternate working hours.
However, being up-front with your employer can make it easier to negotiate any necessary modifications to the workplace or time-off for medical appointments.
What can an employer ask about my health?
An employer can ask you for information about your health after they have offered you a job. If they then decide to withdraw the job offer, this must be for reasons that are non-discriminatory.
An employer can only ask questions about your health before they offer you a job in certain circumstances, which could be to:
- ensure they are not discriminating against anyone in their recruitment process
- ensure they recruit people from a range of different groups, such as people with disabilities – this is called positive action
- check if you need any reasonable adjustments, for example, having your interview in a ground floor room
- find out if you will be able to do something that’s an essential part of the job.
Questions related to disability must not be used to discriminate against you. A possible employer is only allowed to ask questions about your health or disability for the reasons listed above, if necessary.
It’s important not to mislead a potential employer. Giving false or incomplete information can put you in a difficult position later down the line.
If you’re pressed for an answer about your health, it may be best to be open about your breast cancer diagnosis, but this is your decision.
If you don’t get the job as a result of disclosing your diagnosis, you may be able to bring a discrimination claim against the organisation.
You can make a complaint to the organisation, the discrimination agency in your state or territory, the Australian Human Rights Commission or the Fair Work Ombudsman.
However, keep in mind that claims are often unsuccessful because it’s difficult to prove why the prospective employer did not employ you.
Preparing for an interview
If there is a gap in your resume (CV) because of your breast cancer, be prepared for a potential employer to question it. Before an interview, rehearse how to answer any questions about your health.
I was really nervous about my first interview but rehearsed my answers and wrote down different ways to talk about my year of treatment. I wanted to be upfront, honest and positive about my diagnosis without falling apart.
It is not uncommon for people to have breaks in their employment history due to travel, having children or other personal reasons, so the potential employer may not ask about it. A potential employer does not need to know details about your personal life unless it is relevant to the job.
It took two years building up my personal and professional confidence after my return to work. It's a long road back both career and health-wise.
If you are asked about gaps in your work history, you could say you were dealing with some health issues, but, you are now ready and keen to get back to work.
Emphasise the skills and strengths you have to do the job, rather than talking about your illness.
If you are seeking work or wishing to develop a new career pathway, the following resources are available:
- Contact Cancer Council’s Workplace Advisory Service and speak with a career councellor on 13 11 20.
- If you are living with a disability, JobAccess can provide free advice on matters relating to employment on 1800 464 800.
- Find a career advice and volunteering opportunity visit Seek through Volunteering Australia.
- Access job coaching through Wire, helping women make the right connections.