Your legal rights and responsibilities
It is important to understand your legal rights and responsibilities within the workplace. Under Australian law, cancer is considered a disability. This means you cannot be treated less favourably than other employees because of your breast cancer diagnosis.
If you feel you are being treated less favourably because of your breast cancer diagnosis, it can be classed as discrimination.
It's important for anyone dealing with a chronic illness to know their rights from the beginning. My employer was fantastic until a change in management. If I had my time again, I would have liked the support to understand my rights. I would have handled things differently.
Familiarise yourself with the legislation, it is important you know and understand your employment rights and responsibilities. You may like to refer to:
Concerns about discrimination
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 states that your employer has to make 'reasonable adjustments' (changes) for you as a person with a health condition, to help you to remain in your job, unless these adjustments do not allow you to carry out the ‘inherent requirements’ of your role.
If your employer knows about your breast cancer diagnosis, you can suggest reasonable adjustments to help you continue to or return to work. For example, you could request time off for hospital appointments or suggest flexible working arrangements during treatment and recovery.
You are not obliged to disclose your breast cancer diagnosis to your employer. However, if you don’t, they will not need to make reasonable adjustments to your working situation. Withholding this information can cause issues later during your treatment as you could be questioned for your absences.
For further information about the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 visit the Australian Human Rights Commission website.
Flexible working arrangements
Under the Fair Work Act 2009, the National Employment Standards (NES) gives you the right to ask for flexible working arrangements if you have at least 12 months of continuous service with your employer.
These arrangements may include:
- working from home
- working from another office/worksite
- changes to start, finish or break times
- varying hours, working part-time or job-sharing.
Your employer cannot dismiss you because you have taken time off for your treatment or recovery. You will need to produce a medical certificate and ensure your absence is less than three months, or less than a total of three months within a 12-month period.
For more information about flexible working arrangements, visit the Fair Work website.
Privacy and personal information
The Privacy Act 1988 regulates how personal information is handled and shared within the workplace. It is against the law for your employer to share personal information about your diagnosis without your permission. It is your decision how and with whom you share your diagnosis in your workplace.
If at any time you feel your health information has been shared without your consent, speak to your employer or you can find more information from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
For further information, the following resources are available:
- 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.
- Visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.
- Visit the Office of the Australia Information Commissioner website.
- For information about discrimination because of 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.
- For information on dealing with finances and debt contact the National Debt Helpline 1800 007 007 or visit the National Debt Helplink website.
- For free financial counselling visit the MoneySmart website.
- For free financial counselling for those living in rural areas visit the Rural Financial Counselling Service website.