Your rights in the workplace as a carer

Being an employee means you are part of a larger social group and your place in it can change when we take on the role of being an unpaid carer for a family member or loved one. Navigating this part of the caring journey, whether it is at the beginning when you are planning for future responsibilities, or as a result of a sudden change in circumstances, can be one of the larger challenges to overcome, for a variety of reasons.

Text by carer advocate Amy Kemp - Carer Advocate at One Door

Many carers of working age want to continue in paid employment. Working allows carers to:
• earn extra income and build up superannuation for retirement.
• take advantage of the personal challenges, independence, self-esteem and important social connections that the workplace provides.
• gain respite from their caring responsibilities and a life outside of caring.

Knowing your rights in the workplace, as well the external support you might be entitled to, should be the first step in your planning process for speaking to your employer about your role as a carer.

In NSW the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 provides protection for carers if they have been unfairly treated or harassed in the workplace because of their caring responsibilities. If you have been harassed or unfairly treated because you have caring responsibilities, you can make a complaint to the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW. If you would like more information or would like to make a complaint you can find more information on the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW website.

The Fair Work Act 2009 grants you the right to annual leave entitlements to cover sickness or caring responsibilities, including:
• 10 days of paid personal / carer’s leave (paid pro rata for part time employees).
• 2 days unpaid carer’s leave on each occasion that you need to provide care to someone in your immediate family or household. Unpaid carer’s leave can be taken as 2 working days in a row or in separate periods as agreed between the employee and employer (e.g. 4 half days in a row).
• 2 days compassionate leave (unpaid for casual employees) as required.

If you are a carer (within the meaning of the Carer Recognition Act 2010) you have the right to request flexible working arrangements under the Fair Work Act 2009. Flexible working arrangements may include:
• changes to hours of work - such as a reduction in hours or changes to start and finish times
• changes to patterns of work - such as 'split-shifts' or job sharing arrangements.
• changes to the location of work - such as the ability to work from home.

There are rules governing how your request must be made and how your employer must respond. Your request can only be refused on reasonable business grounds such as increased costs of or no capacity to accommodate the new working arrangements. For further information about what ‘reasonable business grounds’ might be, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

Starting and having the conversation with your employer about your role as a carer can be the point at which a lot of working carers stop, as they fear the reactions of their employer and, often mistakenly, assume that the response will be negative and potentially have a detrimental impact on their job or career.

The next stage will start to lay the foundations for approaching your employer by thinking about your circumstances and exactly what it is you need to happen for you to be able to perform the best you can in your role, as well as to carry out the activities needed to fulfil your caring role. If you do not have a clear idea of this, when you come to have the conversation with your employer, it is unlikely you will be able articulate to them the practical challenges you face i.e. attending numerous medical appointments or having to leave work at short notice, as well as any emotional problems you are experiencing, which will mean the meeting might not be particularly useful for you or them. To give your employer the chance of being able to help and support you, you need to take responsibility for your part of the conversation why having considered what it is you are actually talking to them about.
• Do you need to work more flexibility? If so, why and how?
• Do you need some unpaid time out to care for a loved one? If so, for how long? Could you work from home for some of that time?
• Do you need to drop the hours you are working to be able to balance activities which require you to be somewhere at a certain time? If so, how many hours and over how many days?

Be realistic and go into the meeting with an open mind to the fact that you might need to make some compromises, as well as your employer, such as:
• Moving to another role temporarily, which makes flexible or part-time working more realistic for you both.
• Reducing hours, which might mean less responsibility for a while, but that would be best for your team.
• Shifting to home working, where you can remove travelling time, so overall you can retain your existing hours.

Another important aspect to consider is that you are a valued member of your organisation and its likely that your employer would not want to you to leave because they hadn’t had the chance to consider options to support you.

In addition, you are also likely to experience more happiness and job satisfaction. Knowing that you don’t have to worry about trying to explain to your employer when you have an unavoidable appointment or dipping out of a meeting early due to an urgent call, paves the way for you to dial back the guilt, produce your normal high standard of work and enjoy the benefits that continuing in the workplace can bring.



Photo by Nathan Dumlao on  Unsplash