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Legal, financial and workplace concerns

This section provides general information only about insurance, financial and workplace issues that may be relevant to people with cancer. For information specific to your situation, you should seek independent legal and financial advice.

For more information, see our ‘Cancer, Work and You‘ and ‘Cancer and Your Finances‘ booklets.

Insurance

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

If you’re not making a claim, you don’t usually 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 what your insurance policy says about telling the insurer about health issues. When taking out a new policy, you generally need to provide your medical history, including cancer diagnosis. Insurance companies can 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, as cancer is generally considered a pre-existing medical condition. 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, or 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, theft and cancelled flights). It may be difficult to buy travel insurance that covers cancer-related medical issues, but you should be able to get coverage for medical costs not related to cancer. If you have to tell them about any pre-existing health conditions, it’s important to 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. For more information, visit Services Australia.
  • 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.

Financial issues

Cancer can affect your financial situation, but several options are available if you are in  financial stress. You might talk to a social worker for support, who may suggest speaking to a financial counsellor to help you work out a plan to manage your finances. To find a counsellor in your area, visit the National Debt Helpline or call them on 1800 007 007. Depending on where you live, Cancer Council may be able to provide financial counselling, call 13 11 20 for more information.

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 contact 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 often 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

You may be eligible for a superannuation benefit on the basis of permanent or temporary incapacity or a terminal medical condition. Before you apply, it is important to get advice  about how this will affect your retirement and whether there are any insurance policies attached to your superannuation account that you could claim on. You may also be able to access some superannuation early on the basis of severe financial hardship. Talk to your super fund, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to see if we can connect you with a financial adviser.

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 the Mobility Allowance and the Disability Support Pension. You may also be eligible for the Pensioner Concession Card or the Health Care Card, which can help with expenses. Centrelink benefits may be income-and asset-tested or have other eligibility requirements. Medicare also has programs to help with the costs of certain medical supplies (e.g. breast prostheses,  continence aids). For details, visit Medicare or talk to your social worker. If cancer or its treatment has caused permanent and significant disability, you may be eligible for support through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Workplace issues

If you are employed or hope to return to work after treatment, you might wonder how cancer will affect your work life. It is up to you whether you tell your employer about your cancer, however, you may need to do so if your ability to do your job is affected or you need some changes to your work arrangements to help you continue your job or return to work.

You may be concerned about your leave entitlements, or about being discriminated against, changing your working hours, or being dismissed from your job. Some of these issues are dealt with differently depending on your industry and the state or territory you live in. You may need to get specific advice from a lawyer who specialises in employment matters.

Some people resign from their job soon after they are diagnosed with cancer. If you are thinking of resigning, take your time and perhaps talk to a social worker or counsellor about your concerns.

Workplace changes

Employers have to take reasonable steps (called “reasonable adjustments”) to accommodate an employee’s illness and to help them do their job. Examples of reasonable adjustments include allowing additional breaks or modifying your workstation.

An employer can only refuse a request for reasonable adjustments if the changes would cause unjustifiable hardship to their business or on reasonable business grounds. If your request is refused, you can seek help from the Fair Work Ombudsman or the discrimination agency in your state or territory.

Flexible working arrangements

You have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements to help you manage your work.  Usually, only employees who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months can request a flexible working arrangement. Employees covered by an Award may also have some extra  rights when asking for flexible working arrangements. Flexible working arrangements differ on a case-by-case basis, but may include working from home some or all days or varying your hours.

Employers can only refuse a request for flexible working arrangements on reasonable business grounds. If your request is refused, you may seek help from the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Fair Work Commission or your state or territory  discrimination agency.

Taking leave

All full-time employees 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 or  household member. Personal leave for part-time employees is calculated on a pro rata basis. Employees can take as much personal leave as they have built up (accumulated), though your employer can ask you to provide evidence of your illness. Casual employees are not entitled to paid personal leave.

If you need to take more time off work, 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, visit Fair Work.

Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace due to cancer and its treatment is generally unlawful. This includes denying you a promotion, demoting you to a lower paid position, dismissing you or refusing to hire you for a reason related to cancer. An employer may be able to lawfully
discriminate against you, if you are unable to do the key parts of your job in the foreseeable future due to cancer or its treatment.

If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly, talk to your employer. If you’re not happy with the response, you can lodge a complaint with your state or territory discrimination agency or the Australian Human Rights Commission.

If you have experienced discrimination, harassment or other disadvantage due to your cancer diagnosis, you may also be able to lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Commission. Most complaints can be resolved through mediation or conciliation (an informal way to negotiate an outcome). If this isn’t successful, you may go to an administrative tribunal or to court for a legal judgment.

Unfair dismissal

If you feel you have been unfairly 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.

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’

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed May 2023 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof Sarah Lewis, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, NSW; Kevin Bloom, Senior Social Worker, Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Danielle Curnoe, Consumer; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Gastro-Intestinal Cancers, Cancer Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Johanna Jordaan, Consumer; Dr Deme Karikios, Medical Oncologist, Nepean Cancer and Wellness Centre, Nepean Hospital, NSW; Melissa Lawrie, Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse, Cancer Services, Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Jacqueline Lesage, Consumer Reviewer, Cancer Voices NSW; McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Louise Pellerade, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Andrew Potter, Consumer; Siân Slade, PhD Candidate, Nossal Institute for Global Health and Non-Executive Director (health, disability sectors), VIC; Paula Watt, Clinical Psychologist, WOMEN Centre, WA.

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