Employment rights

When you or a loved one are diagnosed with a blood cancer or condition, you may find yourself having to negotiate your sick leave and annual leave entitlements. You might also need to work through what to tell your employer.

Our Employment rights factsheet outlines your leave entitlements and options, and provides suggestions on how to communicate effectively with your employer.

Sick leave

In case you need 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 the same position with the same terms and conditions after taking leave without pay (unless the employee and employer agree otherwise).

Employees aren’t automatically entitled to take leave without pay; they can only take it if their employer agrees. This agreement could be contained in their employment agreement, or could be negotiated by the employee and employer at the time leave is taken.

If the employee takes time off work without the employer’s agreement, this leave is unauthorised and could result in a disciplinary process being taken.

Disclosure of illness

You don’t legally have to disclose your condition to your employer, but it may help you to do so if the employer has concerns around absences from work or work performance.   You may have to provide a medical certificate for absences of more than 3 days, so you may find it easier to discuss your condition with your employer.   The employer can ask for independent medical advice and may go down a disciplinary route if you do not disclose your condition.

Transparency is advised to ensure that you get adequate support, and it is recommended that both parties put together a plan on how to manage sick leave and duties while you (or your partner or dependant) has treatment or recovers from treatment.

If it’s a new job you are applying for, you don’t legally need to declare your medical history, but you do need to be able to fulfill the duties of the role that you have applied for.

However, you 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 it, 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. You will need to speak with your local HR person or direct manager to see if income protection or life insurance applies to you, and what the process to claim would be.


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 withdrawing your Kiwisaver early, call 0800 KIWISAVER (0800 549 472) or 04 978 0800 if calling from a cellphone.

Watch our video for advice on your employment rights

Naomi McRae is an HR specialist at PwC New Zealand and a blood cancer survivor.