A cancer diagnosis can turn your life upside down. Facing a serious illness and a long treatment journey can be extremely daunting, so to help make things a little easier for you we will be bringing you a regular ‘coping with cancer’ series. These articles will offer a range of advice and information on various issues from nutrition to finances. We will also provide advice on how best to connect with our relevant support services so you can spend more time focusing on the things you love.
Telling your employer that you have cancer is a personal decision. While there is no law that requires you to share the diagnosis with your employer, you do have some obligations.
You should tell your employer if the cancer or treatment will affect your ability to do the essential requirements of your job or if your illness could reasonably cause a health and safety risk for yourself or other people.
Being open with your employer enables you to discuss what adjustments could be made to your work. Your boss may be more understanding when it comes to flexible working arrangements and you could be able to access some benefits, such as additional leave.
Other reasons to consider disclosing your illness include:
• If your boss doesn’t know about your diagnosis and your work is affected, it may be seen as poor work performance
• You can work with your employer to deal with any misunderstandings
• Keeping it a secret causes unnecessary stress, and you may waste energy trying to cover it up.
If you are unsure of how your boss will react, it’s good to know your rights and your employer’s responsibilities. If you feel nervous about speaking with your manager or colleagues, you may feel more confident if you practise the conversation with your family and friends.
What should I tell my employer?
What and how much to tell your employer will depend on your preferences, your workplace and the kind of relationship you have with your boss. However, you don’t need to share all the details about your diagnosis and treatment with your employer. Yet, you should let your employer know about anything that may impact upon your ability to work or cause a health and safety risk for yourself or others.
You may want to provide the following information:
• If and how long you will be able to continue working
• Whether you will be able to perform all of your job duties
• If you want other people in your workplace to know
• If you need to take time off from work for treatment and when you are likely to return to work
• Any work adjustments you may need. You may need to talk with your health professionals before you can answer these questions, and you may not have some answers until you’ve started treatment.
Should I tell my colleagues?
There’s no right or wrong answer, it’s a personal decision. Sharing details about the diagnosis and treatment may make you feel uncomfortable or you may be concerned you’ll be treated differently. You can talk to your employer about whether or not you plan to tell your colleagues.
Points to consider include:
• If it’s a friendly and close-knit type of workplace or more formal and business-focused
• The types of relationships you have with other staff
• Who you feel you can trust with personal matters
• If there has been a previous diagnosis of cancer in the workplace and how it was received.
If the cancer or treatment side effects mean you will be away from work for some time or if they have a visible impact on your behaviour or appearance, your colleagues may speculate about these changes. Some may even become resentful if they think that you aren’t ‘pulling your weight’ and don’t understand why. It can be difficult to hide your illness if you work in a close-knit team. Sharing with close colleagues will give them the opportunity to express their concern for your wellbeing and discuss ways they can help you.
What support can my employer offer me?
If you cannot perform your usual work duties, your employer is obligated by the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ unless it will result in ‘unjustifiable hardship’ to the organisation.
These adjustments could be administrative, environmental or procedural, and they could be temporary or long-term. You and your employer can discuss ideas for possible adjustments to your duties, work space and hours. Your health care team may also have useful suggestions. Reasonable adjustments that can be made include:
• Additional breaks because of pain or fatigue, or to attend medical appointments
• Temporary duties agreed upon between employee and employer
• Reduction of hours, flexi-time, working from home, part-time work or a gradual return to work
• Changes to the workplace such as access to chairs, desks and counters
• Telephone typewriter (TTY) access, voice-activated software, telephone headsets, screen-reading software.
Your employer can access advice, and financial and practical assistance to help support you at JobAccess. Call 1800 464 800 or go to www.jobaccess.gov.au.
They may also have employee support systems, such as rehabilitation and retraining programs, or an Employee Assistance Program that offers free counselling. Another option may be a buddy or mentoring system with someone else in your workplace that has had cancer. Your colleague can offer advice or help you liaise with management. The way that the system is arranged is up to you and your employer.
Find out more about cancer, work and you with our information booklet here or give our cancer care nurses a call on 13 11 20.