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Working during treatment and recovery

If you decide to work during treatment or return to work after it’s finished, there are several options to consider. These include asking for flexible working arrangements or using your leave entitlements.

Flexible working arrangements

Under the National Employment Standards (NES), people with a disability such as cancer have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements if they have at least 12 months of continuous service with their employer. Long-term casual employees may also ask for flexible working arrangements.

Some examples of flexible arrangements are allowing you to:

  • work from home some or all days
  • reduce the hours you work or change your start, finish or break times
  • work from another office or suitable location
  • vary your hours, split shifts, work part-time or job share.

You need to ask in writing, giving details of the changes you want and why you want them. Your employer needs to accept or refuse your request in writing within 21 days of receiving it. The only reason they can refuse your request is on reasonable business grounds (for example, the changes are too expensive). If your employer refuses your request and you don’t think their explanation is reasonable, you may be able to seek assistance from the Fair Work Commission or the
discrimination agency in your state or territory.

Any proposed changes should be realistic and workable for both you and your employer. Your organisation isn’t obliged to agree to all your requests. For example, if you ask to work 8pm–10pm, three days each week, it may not suit the needs of the workplace.

After a few weeks of the new schedule, catch up with your manager or human resources department to discuss whether the flexible arrangements are working for both you and your employer. You might want to change the arrangement once you know how the treatment is affecting you, or as you start to feel better.

Leave entitlements

There are several types of leave options available to help you balance work and treatment. The National Employment Standards outline the rules for several types of paid and unpaid leave, which apply under most awards or enterprise agreements in Australia.

Entitlements offered under awards or agreements may be different from those provided by the National Employment Standards but can’t be less. You should check the terms of your agreement.

Types of leave entitlements

Personal/carer’s leave

  • Can be taken when you are unwell or injured, or if you need to care for an immediate family or household member.
  • It used to be called sick leave.
  • Permanent full-time employees receive a minimum of 10 days of paid personal leave each year.
  • Part-time employees receive a pro rata (proportional) amount of personal leave days based on the number of hours they work.
  • Paid personal leave is an entitlement for all employees except casuals.
  • This type of leave is paid at the employee’s base rate of pay.
  • An employer can ask you to provide proof that you need to take personal leave (e.g. a medical certificate).
  • Unused leave days carry over from year to year (accumulate or accrue).
  • Employees can take as much leave as they have accumulated.
  • This type of leave is not paid out when you leave your employer.

Annual leave

  • Also known as holiday pay.
  • Paid annual leave is an entitlement for all employees except casuals. Full-time employees receive a minimum of four weeks of paid annual leave for each year of service with their employer. Part-time staff receive leave on a pro rata (proportional) basis.
  • Annual leave is paid at the employee’s base rate of pay. Under some awards or agreements, employees are paid an increased rate (leave loading).
  • Unused annual leave accumulates over time. Your employer can direct you to take annual leave, but the request must be reasonable.
  • Annual leave continues to accumulate when an employee takes a period of paid leave. Leave doesn’t accumulate during periods of unpaid leave.
  • An employee must apply for annual leave before taking it.
  • An employer must approve annual leave unless they have reasonable grounds to refuse it.
  • If you leave your employer, any unused annual leave will be paid out.

Long service leave

  • A period of paid leave after you’ve worked continuously for the same employer for an extended period of time. This leave may apply after 7–10 years.
  • If you have worked for the same employer for an extended period of time and resign due to illness, you may be entitled to a pro rata long service leave payment. This may apply after 5–7 years.
  • The amount of leave and the lengths of service required are different depending on which state or territory you live in.
  • Long service leave is paid at the employee’s ordinary rate of pay. In some cases, you may be able to take a longer period of leave at half-pay.
  • Once you are entitled to take long service leave, any unused leave is usually paid out when you leave your employer.
  • Periods of unpaid leave do not count towards continuous service for the accrual of long service leave.

Unpaid leave

  • If you have used all your paid personal leave or if you are a casual employee, your employer might grant you leave from work without pay. This is not an entitlement – it is up to your employer to allow it.
  • You may have to use your annual leave before your employer allows you to take leave without pay.
  • Personal leave and annual leave do not usually accumulate when you are on unpaid leave.
  • All employees are entitled to two days of unpaid carer’s leave. This leave can be taken each time a member of an employee’s immediate family or household needs care and support because of illness, injury or an emergency. Full-time and part-time employees must have used all their paid personal leave before they can take unpaid carer’s leave.

Managing work and treatment

Flexible arrangements

  • If possible, take a few hours off instead of the whole day.
  • Try to schedule treatment sessions so you have more recovery time (e.g. late in the day or before your days off).
  • Explore working from home. Not having to commute may help you feel less tired.
  • Let co-workers know about changes to your work hours.
  • Write down the plan you and your employer have agreed on, and then both sign it.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, don’t let your performance suffer too much before re-assessing your work arrangements.
  • Look for tools to help you work remotely, e.g. using a smartphone to get your emails, copying files to the cloud, or working on a laptop.


  • If you are a new employee, ask your manager or human resources department if there is a waiting (qualifying) period for paid personal leave.
  • Check with your employer if you can “cash out” your annual leave and any conditions that apply. Some awards and agreements don’t allow this.
  • Give as much notice as possible before taking leave. Combine personal leave with annual leave and long service leave, if necessary.
  • If you don’t have enough paid leave, ask your manager if you can take unpaid time off.
  • Know your rights. It is generally against the law to dismiss someone for taking leave for illness.
  • If you believe your employer isn’t giving you the correct amount of leave, check your entitlements. Visit the Fair Work Ombudsman or call them on 13 13 94.

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed November 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: Kerryann White, Manager, People and Culture, Cancer Council SA; Nicola Martin, Principal, McCabe Curwood, NSW; Jane Auchettl, Coordinator, Education and Training Programs, Cancer Council Victoria; Craig Brewer, Consumer; Alana Cochrane, Human Resources Business Partner, Greater Bank Newcastle, NSW; Shona Gates, Senior Social Worker, North West Cancer Centre, North West Regional Hospital, TAS; Dianne Head, Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Metastatic Breast Cancer, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre Westmead, NSW; Alex Kelly, Talent Acquisition Business Partner, Aon, NSW; Prof Bogda Koczwara AM, Senior Staff Specialist, Department of Medical Oncology, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; Sharyn McGowan, Occupational Therapist, Bendigo Health, VIC; Jeanne Potts, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Michelle Smerdon, Legal and Financial Support Services Manager, Cancer Council NSW.

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