Just as a cancer diagnosis has an impact on your life, your work and the people you are working with may also be affected.

Returning to Work

If you have stopped working because of cancer, you can return to work if your health improves and you feel ready.

You will not have to repay your superannuation contributions or any received monthly disability benefits. If you are receiving a pension or insurance benefit, you have to inform the superannuation trustees or insurer when you return to work. 

Effects on employment

You don’t have an obligation to inform a potential employer that you have had cancer/finished cancer treatment unless the potential employer asks. 

Many employers will be supportive when an employee is diagnosed with cancer. However, if you feel that your employer treats you unfairly after a cancer diagnosis, there are ways you can challenge this.

The following are some common examples of what you might experience.

If you are dismissed or your employment is terminated, it may be a case of unfair dismissal, giving rise to a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act 2000.

Legal proceedings can be brought for a personal grievance under the Employment Relations Act 2000. When you lodge an application, Employment NZ can arrange mediation at no cost. A personal grievance may arise when:

  • you have been unjustifiably dismissed. 
  • one or more conditions of your employment are affected by some unjustifiable action by your employer.
  • you have been discriminated.

You must apply within 90 days after the day on which the personal grievance occurred.

In some cases, the termination of employment will be unlawful (illegal). If you have cancer, the relevant reason here will be physical or mental disability.

An employer must not discriminate against an employee on the grounds of his/her disability or impairment in:

  • the terms or conditions of employment or work.
  • denying or limiting access to opportunities for promotion, transfer, training, or any other benefits.
  • dismissing the employee or otherwise terminating employment.
  • retiring that employee, or requiring or causing that employee to retire or resign.
  • subjecting the employee to any detriment.

If you believe that you have been unlawfully discriminated against because of a cancer diagnosis, you should seek legal advice.

We have collected some suggestions for your employer and your colleagues.

Information for employers

The privacy of your employee is vital. How much information is shared is useful to discuss. Ensure they have all the information they need about their rights as an employee, full details about their leave, any insurance cover, or details of employee benefits they may be entitled to.

Cancer-related fatigue

  • Be aware of cancer-related fatigue (extreme tiredness with changing periods of tiredness and energy). This is a common experience for many people with cancer.
  • Cancer and treatments can result in temporary difficulties with things, such as memory, doing many things simultaneously, and being able to concentrate.

Other practical considerations

  • Be flexible when planning with your employee.
  • Be aware that your employee may need to avoid strong smells in the workplace, such as lunchroom smells, strong perfume or aftershave, or chemical products.
  • Giving them a car park close to the workplace may be helpful while they are coping with having less energy.
  • Be open and honest. This will be appreciated and allows your employee to feel comfortable expressing their feelings.
  • Ensure your employee knows who they can talk to with any concerns.
  • Ask your employee who you can contact should they be unwell at work.
  • Involve the employee in handing over their workload. Do not reduce the workload without talking with your employee.
  • With their permission, it may be helpful to arrange an education session for staff about cancer.
  • Be aware that the employee will be going through an unhappy time and talk to them regularly to find out how they are managing.
  • Do not dwell on cancer – work can be a diversion.
  • Be aware of how other staff in the workplace are coping.
  • Some employees attempt to return to full-time work too quickly. Some employers expect the employee to return too quickly to work. Employers, sometimes, over-protect cancer survivors. They may not know when staff are ready to begin taking on their responsibilities again.

Information for workmates

  • Check with your colleagues if they wish to talk about their cancer at all.
  • Ask your colleague if they would like one person to update others on how things are going.
  • Do not withdraw from your colleague if you have had a close working relationship. They will appreciate your support and presence.
  • Try to avoid saying “You’re brave”. It is not your job to cheer the person up.
  • When your colleague returns to work, do not overload them. Welcome them back, acknowledge their cancer but do not dwell on it.
  • Do not expect them to return to their old selves.



Need someone to talk to?
8:30 am to 5:00 pm Monday to Friday
0800 226 237 Information nurse

We know that going through cancer is tough and can raise many questions. You are not alone.

We have health professionals to answer your questions and provide the support you need. Get in touch

Last updated: September 17, 2021