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Legal, financial and workplace concerns

During or after cancer treatment, you may have concerns about insurance policies, financial issues and work. This section provides an introduction to these topics. For more information, see our ‘Cancer and Your Finances’ booklet or call Cancer Council 13 11 20. You may also want to consider obtaining independent legal and financial advice about any issue covered in this section.

You may have taken out personal insurance policies (e.g. income protection or total and permanent disability) before your diagnosis. You may also have insurance through your superannuation. It’s important to make a claim as soon as possible, because there may be time limits that apply. If you think you should be covered but your claim is denied, get in touch with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority. You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to see whether we can connect you with a lawyer for assistance.

If you’re not making a claim, usually you do not need to inform the insurer about your cancer diagnosis until you renew your policy or change your level of cover. However, it is a good idea to check your insurance policy to see what it says about disclosing health issues. If you’re taking out a new policy you are generally required to provide your medical history, including your cancer diagnosis. Insurance companies are allowed to refuse cover, but only on reasonable grounds. This does not include private health insurance – it is unlawful to be denied health insurance because of health issues, but there may be a waiting period before pre-existing conditions are covered.

Travel insurance

Getting travel insurance can be a major concern for people with cancer or who have had cancer. Insurance companies may view you as more of a risk. They may believe that you’re more likely to get sick and require treatment while you’re travelling, need to return home for treatment, or cancel your trip due to illness.

In general, you should be able to buy travel insurance for things that are not related to your cancer (like lost luggage and cancelled flights). It may be difficult to buy travel insurance that covers cancer-related medical problems, but you should be able to get coverage for non-cancer-related medical costs. If you have to disclose any pre-existing health conditions, be honest – a claim may be denied if you withhold information.

How to get travel insurance
  • Apply for a policy well before your departure date.
  • Shop around – the terms and conditions may vary.
  • Ask your specialist or GP to write a detailed letter outlining your condition.
  • If you are travelling overseas, check whether there is a reciprocal health care agreement between Australia and the country you are visiting that covers some of the costs of medical treatment. Visit Services Australia for more information.
  • Some credit cards offer free travel insurance if you use the card to pay for some or all of the trip. Read the fine print.
  • If you are denied travel insurance, ask the insurer to provide reasons in writing.

If you’re in financial stress, several options are available. A financial counsellor can help you to budget and work out a plan to manage your finances. To find a counsellor in your area, visit Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) or call them on 1800 007 007.

Dealing with debts

If you are struggling with debts, such as your mortgage or credit card bills, talk to your credit provider about your financial situation and your options. These may include:

  • extending the time you have to repay the debt
  • reducing or pausing repayments for a short time
  • changing to interest-only repayments for a specified period
  • renegotiating your interest rate.

If you’re not satisfied with the response you receive, you can complain through the free external dispute resolution scheme run by the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.

If you’re having trouble paying your utility bills, such as electricity, gas, water, phone or internet, talk to your provider. They can help you find ways to avoid disconnection and penalty fees.

For more information about dealing with debt and other financial matters, visit the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s consumer website.

Download our fact sheet ‘Dealing with debts’

Accessing superannuation

If cancer causes financial issues, talk to your superannuation fund about applying for an early release of your superannuation savings on the grounds of severe financial hardship. Before you decide to access your super early, get financial advice about how this will affect your retirement and find out whether there are any insurance policies attached to your superannuation account that you could claim on.

Download our fact sheet ‘Superannuation and cancer’

Applying for government benefits

Centrelink offers a range of payments that may be available to people with cancer, including Sickness Allowance, Mobility Allowance, and the Disability Support Pension. You may also be eligible for the Pensioner Concession Card or the Health Care Card, which can reduce your expenses. Centrelink benefits may be income and asset tested or have other eligibility requirements. Medicare also has reimbursement programs for people who need certain medical supplies, such as breast prostheses and continence aids. For more information and to check eligibility requirements, visit
their websites or talk to your social worker.

If you are employed or hope to return to work after treatment, you might wonder how cancer will affect your work life. You may be concerned about your leave entitlements, discrimination, changing your working hours, or unfair dismissal. Some of the issues described here differ between states and territories, and they may depend on the industry you work in. You may need to obtain specific advice about your situation from a lawyer who specialises in employment matters.

Taking leave

All full-time employees except casuals are entitled to a minimum of 10 days of paid personal leave each year. This leave can be taken when you are unwell or need to care for an immediate family member. Part-time employees receive this entitlement on a pro rata basis. Employees can take as much personal leave as they have accumulated, though your employer can ask you to provide evidence of your illness.

If you need to take more time off, you may be able to combine personal leave with annual leave or long service leave, or ask your manager if you can take unpaid leave. For more information about your leave entitlements and what to do if you are prevented from taking leave you have a right to, visit Fair Work Australia.

Discrimination

In general, discrimination in the workplace due to cancer and treatment is unlawful. This includes denying you a promotion, demoting you to a lower paid job, sacking you or refusing to hire you for a reason related to your cancer.

If you think you’re being discriminated against, try talking with your employer and follow your workplace’s grievance handling policy. If you’re not happy with the response, you can lodge a formal complaint with the discrimination agency in your state or territory or the Australian Human Rights Commission.

If you have been dismissed from your job or experienced other disadvantage due to your cancer diagnosis, you may also be able to lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Commission.

Contact these organisations to see which one is most appropriate for your situation before you lodge a complaint. Most complaints are resolved through mediation or conciliation, which is an informal type of resolution. If mediation doesn’t work, you may go to an administrative tribunal or to court for a legal judgment that must be followed.

Special arrangements

Australian laws require an employer to take reasonable steps to accommodate the effects of an employee’s illness and help you perform your job.  They can only refuse your request to provide these arrangements if the changes would cause unjustifiable hardship to their business or, in some cases, on reasonable business grounds.

Some examples of flexible working arrangements are:

  • making minor changes to your work duties
  • allowing you to work from home some or all days
  • providing you with additional equipment
  • allowing you to vary your hours, work part-time or job share.

If your employer refuses your request, you may be able to seek assistance from the Fair Work Ombudsman, Fair Work Commission or the discrimination agency in your state or territory.

Unfair dismissal

An employer can’t pressure you to resign or dismiss you because you have cancer. If you have been dismissed from your job, you may be able to lodge an unfair dismissal claim with the Fair Work Commission. You must lodge claims within 21 days of being dismissed and meet some other conditions.

State and territory discrimination agencies

ACT  – Human Rights Commission

NSW – Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW

NT – Anti-Discrimination Commission

QLD – Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland

SA – Equal Opportunity Commission (SA)

TAS – Equal Opportunity Tasmania

VIC – Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission

WA – Equal Opportunity Commission (WA)

Download our booklet ‘Cancer, Work & You’

Cancer Council’s Legal, Financial, Small Business and Workplace Referral Service may be able to help if you or someone in your family is affected by cancer, and you need financial, legal or workplace advice. We can connect you with professionals to assist you with credit and debt issues, insurance claims and disputes, early access to superannuation, managing workplace issues, and transitioning to retirement. Call 13 11 20 to find out what services are available in your area and whether you are eligible for this assistance.

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed June 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: Toni Ashmore, Cancer and Ambulatory Services, Canberra Health Services, ACT; Baker McKenzie, Pro Bono Legal Adviser, NSW; Marion Bamblett, Acting Nurse Unit Manager, Cancer Centre, South Metropolitan Health Service, Fiona Stanley Hospital, WA; David Briggs, Consumer; Naomi Catchpole, Social Worker, Metro South Health, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Tarishi Desai, Legal Research Officer, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Kathryn Dwan, Manager, Policy and Research, Health Care Consumers Association, ACT; Hayley Jones, Manager, Treatment and Supportive Care, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Victoria Lear, Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Michelle Smerdon, National Pro Bono Manager, Cancer Council NSW.