If you are still working with your diagnosis of advanced breast cancer, you may be wondering whether or not to continue.

Your decision will be based upon your health, your financial situation and your priorities in life. Many women who feel well enough keep working because they enjoy the social connections and the value they receive from their work and work environment. You may decide to make some changes in your working life - to stop work altogether, change jobs, or chose flexible or part-time work.

You may find yourself having to negotiate your sick leave and annual leave entitlements as well as working through what to tell your employer.

The information below aims to help you understand your options and entitlements, as well as working through what to tell your employer.


If you need to take time off work, there are different types of leave options available to you:

  • Sick leave
  • Annual leave
  • Leave without pay

Check out the terms and conditions of your individual employment agreement to find out what you are entitled to as it may be more than the minimum statutory legal requirements.

Leave without pay

If you have used all your sick leave but are unable to work while you have treatment, or are caring for someone undergoing treatment, you can request leave without pay.
Leave without pay is when an employer lets an employee take time off work but doesn’t pay them for the time taken off.

  • Leave without pay doesn’t stop an employee’s employment, and usually the employee returns to their same position and terms and conditions after taking leave without pay (unless the employee and employer agree otherwise).
  • Employees aren’t entitled to leave without pay; they can only take it if their employer agrees
  • An agreement to take leave without pay could be contained in their employment agreement, or could be negotiated by the employee and employer at the time the employee asks for the leave.
  • If the employee takes time off work without the employer’s agreement, this is unauthorised leave and could result in a disciplinary process being taken

Talking about your advanced breast cancer at work

You don’t legally have to disclose your condition to your employer, as long as you are confident in your ability to carry out the duties of your role. But it may help you to do so if the employer has concerns around absences from work or work performance.

Talking to your employer about your condition may help you get further support and help you and your employer plan on how to manage sick leave and duties while you are undergoing treatment or recovering from treatment.

If you are applying for a new job, you don’t legally need to declare your medical history, but you do need to be able to fulfil the duties of the role that you have applied for. However, some may wish to disclose to potential new employers to help explain gaps in their CV.

Income protection and life insurance

Some employers offer an enhanced benefit in the form of income protection or life insurance.

Income protection is where your salary, or part of your salary, will continue to be paid while you are on leave. Details of any such agreement will be in your employment contract.

Life insurance is a lump sum paid out to your family in the event of your death. There is usually a stand down period before the income protection insurance kicks in. For more information, speak with your HR department or direct manager to see whether income protection or life insurance applies to you and what the process you need to follow to make a claim.

Kiwisaver. If you are away on sick or annual leave, your personal and employer contributions will continue unless you take a contributions holiday. For more information on contributions holiday and drawing your Kiwisaver early, call 0800 KIWISAVER (0800 549 472) or 04 978 0800 if calling from a cellphone.ir life.

Flexible working entitlements

If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed, there is a good chance you will want to reduce your hours or work more flexibly.

It’s important to have a conversation with your employer as quickly as possible. Chances are, you may be able to come to an informal short term arrangement until more information about your diagnosis and treatment plan becomes available.

For longer term arrangements, as an employee you have a right to request a flexible working arrangement.

Info sheet on flexible working arrangements

What do I need to do to submit a formal Flexible Work Agreement (FWA)?

The request must be in writing, e.g. by letter, email or complete a flexible work agreement form.

It is recommended to:

  • Plan in advance before making a request
  • Submit your request to your employer as soon as you are sure of what you want
  • Keep a copy of the request and note when you have sent it to your employer; and
  • Remember, the clearer the request the better. It’s up to you to explain the working arrangement that you want and how it can be made to work for both employee and employer.

The employer must reply as soon as possible, but within one month of the date requested. The employer will make the decision on whether or not to grant the request based on business grounds.

Government financial support

There are several different types of benefits that you may be entitled to if you are unable to work due to illness, including:

  • Job Seeker Support or Job Seeker Support with Medical Deferral
  • Sole Parent Support
  • Supported Living Payment
  • Supported Living Payment - Carer
  • Emergency Benefit

Download our information sheet on Government financial support to see what benefits might be available to you and more information on applying for a benefit through Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ)

Please note that this document is a guide only. Some benefits are income tested and due to the different circumstances of each individual, the financial assistance you qualify for may differ. To find out which benefit may be available to you, you can complete an eligibility test online before you submit an application. Alternatively, you can contact WINZ to speak to a case worker.

Info sheet on Government financial support

Medical retirement

When an employee is no longer able to do their job due to illness or injury, it can be a challenging time for both the employee and employer.

In these situations, employees often feel vulnerable. They may be concerned about not being well enough to do their job and worried about what will happen to them financially if they lose their job.

Similarly, their employer may be feeling pressure about how to manage workloads and also treat the staff member fairly and with dignity.

Medical retirement is an option that allows an employee to leave an organisation with dignity. It is different from normal retirement in that, while after normal retirement an employee usually does not work again, after medical retirement, an employee may look for a different job that is not limited by the illness.

Guide to medical retirement

Guidance for employers

When an employee is diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, he or she will undergo an enormous amount of stress. Ongoing treatment can produce a variety of side effects and cause significant fatigue. However, people with advanced breast cancer continue to live full and productive lives often for many years.

A diagnosis of advanced breast cancer not only impacts the individual and their families, but it also has an impact on their employers and the workplace.

Many people diagnosed with advanced cancer will want to continue to work for as long as possible. Work often allows the person to reconnect with society and regain a sense of normality which can be crucial in their recovery.

It is vitally important that the situation is managed with care and communication channels are kept open between employee and employer. Your support as an employer can make a tremendous difference to their cancer journey and well-being.

Guidance for employers

Applying for work

You don’t legally have to disclose your health history when you apply for a job, as long as you are confident in your ability to carry out the duties of your role.

However, some may wish to disclose to potential new employers to help explain gaps in their CV while they took time off for treatment or just because they want to share how their advanced breast cancer impacts their life.