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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.


Useful information

For further information, the following resources are available: