Talking to your employer
Disclosing details of your breast cancer diagnosis in the workplace may be confronting or uncomfortable. However, telling your employer can be of benefit when making adjustments to your work schedule.
Make yourself familiar with your entitlements and work policies so you are aware of your rights.
My immediate work colleagues and management were really understanding and enormously flexible. The human resources area were great and answered all my questions about returning to work and various options.
Sharing your breast cancer diagnosis
You are not legally obliged to disclose your diagnosis to your employer. However, if your employer is not aware, they are less likely to make reasonable adjustments to your employment. This can have a negative impact on your job and working relationships and may cause issues at a later date.
If you choose to tell your employer it's important to keep the lines of communicate open and regular throughout your treatment. Agree on a plan about the changes to your work duties, hours of work and your return to work date if you are taking time off.
Relevant people to talk with about your work adjustments include:
- your line manager
- a human resources (HR) representative
- your trade union (if applicable).
Preparing to tell your employer
The following information can help you when planning to speak with your employer about your diagnosis.
- If you feel nervous about talking to your employer, you can take someone with you for support e.g. a friend, colleague, union representative.
- Ensure you ask that the meeting takes place in a private space.
- Ask your employer to keep your conversation confidential with only the agreed people informed of your diagnosis.
- Advise your employer if you wish to continue working or if you would prefer to take time off.
- If you are unsure what you would like to do, wait until you start treatment, and assess how you feel. Explain this to your employer so they understand you may need to change work plans at short notice during the course of your treatment.
Write down questions or items you would like to discuss, for example:
- Who at your workplace do you want to tell about your diagnosis?
- How much information do you want to share?
- How would you like to communicate your diagnosis?
- Which changes do you think will help you to carry on working, and are their policies available to support this?
- What support (emotional and practical) is available within your workplace e.g. human resources, mentor, employee assistance program (EAP)?
- Keep a record of your discussions, as it will help you remember what has been discussed and can be referred to if necessary.
Keep in touch with your employer
- Ask for regular follow-up meetings with your employer.
- You can keep them up to date and talk about any changes.
- Bring your notes and plan to each meeting and update as required.
For further information, the following resources are available for download:
- BCNA's Managing work, finances and breast cancer fact sheet for more information about work and finances
- BCNA's Work rights and responsibilities for employees fact sheet for information about workplace rights and responsibilities following a diagnosis of breast cancer.
- For information about discrimination because of a cancer diagnosis contact the Australian Human Rights Commission 1300 656 419 or visit the Australian Human Rights Commission website.
- For free over-the-phone legal advice and free means and merit tested legal assistance and representation visit the Legal Aid website.