Information for working carers

Wednesday 1 January, 2014

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On this page:  Who is a working carer? | Will I be able to work?Talking to your employerTaking time off workDiscrimination, harassment and unfair dismissal | Financial help for carers | Support for carersTaking care of yourself | Key points


Many people who care for someone with cancer are also employed. Your caring duties and your job may be an important or necessary part of your life, but sometimes people find it difficult to balance the needs of both roles.

Who is a working carer?

A working carer is a person who helps and supports someone through an illness or disability and also has paid employment.

There are many different types of caring situations:

  • You may be a partner, relative, friend or neighbour.
  • The person whom you are caring for may also be employed, or you may be looking after someone who isn’t in the workforce (e.g. elderly parent, child).
  • Care can be part-time or full-time, over a short period of time or long term.
  • The support can be practical (e.g. preparing meals, shopping and managing medications), emotional or spiritual.

Will I be able to work?

 You will need to weigh up your ability to handle both your caring commitments and your responsibilities at work. Caring can impact on your job in various ways. It may affect your working hours, what you can achieve at work, how much time off you take, and your emotional and physical stress. If the person with cancer does not work and is dependent on you, there may be financial pressure on you to continue earning an income.

Your decision will probably depend on:

  • how sick the person with cancer is
  • what your caring and work duties involve
  • the amount of help or respite care available
  • your finances
  • what will give you peace of mind.

Before deciding, talk over your thoughts with your employer, family and friends. You can also ask the Carers Association in your state or territory for support and counselling. Visit www.carersaustralia.com.au or call 1800 242 636.

Talking to your employer

 You aren’t required to tell your employer that you are a carer. However, talking to your employer about your caring duties may help them be more understanding and flexible.

You might discuss:

  • the impact of caring responsibilities on your work commitments
  • taking time off or setting up flexible working arrangements
  • ways your employer may be able to support you
  • who should know about your situation, and whether you want to share information with your colleagues.

If you tell your colleagues about your caring role, they may be a source of support. Some of your colleagues may also be working carers. However, if you prefer to keep your caring role confidential, your employer needs to respect your wishes.

Taking time off work

You may need time off work or stop working for some time to look after the person with cancer. If you need to take a day off to care for a member of your family or household, you can use personal leave. This used to be called sick leave, and is the same type of leave you take when you are sick or injured.

National Employment Standards outline the rules for personal leave, including allocating 10 days of personal leave each year to full-time employees. Some employers may have rules about taking personal leave. For more information, see the types of leave entitlements section.

Unpaid leave

If you’ve used all of your paid personal leave, you are entitled to two days unpaid carer’s leave. These days are reserved for caring duties. Both casual and permanent employees are entitled to this leave. You can take the leave all at once (e.g. two consecutive working days) or in separate periods as agreed by your employer (e.g. four consecutive half-days).

If you need more time off and you have used your personal leave and unpaid carer’s leave, you can apply for leave without pay. Keep in mind that your employer doesn’t have to approve this request.

If you ask for personal or unpaid carer’s leave, your employer can request basic facts about why you need time off. This allows your manager to approve the leave and make sure it’s recorded correctly.

Other types of leave

Permanent full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of four weeks of paid annual leave for each year of service with their employer. Part-time workers receive leave on a pro-rata basis.

Employees who have been working for the same employer for at least 5–7 years may also have accumulated paid long service leave.

If you’re considering using these types of leave, you may want to talk to your employer about your situation. You might be able to arrange flexible working arrangements or unpaid leave so you don’t have to use all of your paid entitlements.

Flexible working arrangements
  • Carers have the right to request adjustments to their work hours, location of work or patterns of work.
  • Your employer should take reasonable steps to accommodate your caring responsibilities.
  • They can only refuse your request if it will cause unjustifiable hardship on the business.
  • Talk to your manager or human resources department to see if you can arrange some flexible work practices.
  • Most employers are aware of the challenges faced by working carers. Your manager may try to be flexible.

Discrimination, harassment and unfair dismissal

It is against the law for your employer to treat you unfairly or less favourably because of your caring responsibilities. It is also illegal to deny you opportunities, harass you or terminate your employment because you are a carer.

The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Acts and each of the state and territory anti-discrimination laws apply to carers looking after an in-law, child, grandchild, parent, grandparent, partner, ex-partner or sibling across the country, except in the Northern Territory. Unrelated carers may be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act as associates.

Carers also have the right to work in a safe, harassment-free environment. Talk to your manager or human resources staff if you think you are being harassed or bullied. You can also apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying.

An employer also can’t pressure you to resign or dismiss you because you are a carer. It may be a case of unfair dismissal if your dismissal is considered harsh, unjust or unreasonable.

If you feel you have been treated unfairly or harassed because of your caring role, you should first try talking to your employer. You can also complain in writing to the discrimination agency in your state or territory or the Australian Human Rights Commission. Visit www.antidiscrimination.gov.au for a guide to Commonwealth, state and territory discrimination laws.

Financial help for carers

Working carers often depend on their income to support their family and the person who is unwell. Centrelink provides benefits to reduce financial pressure. For example, the Carer Allowance is a tax-free fortnightly payment for people who are not paid caregivers. Employment doesn’t affect eligibility, as the allowance is not income or assets tested. Contact Centrelink on 13 27 17 or go to www.humanservices.gov.au.

You may be able to get early access to your superannuation fund if you are caring for a dependent, such as a child. Contact your fund for more details.

Call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 for information about free or subsidised counselling and financial planning.

Support for carers

Carers sometimes need assistance to keep caring for the person who needs their help. Examples of support include counselling, nursing and home help, and services that give you a break from caring (respite care).

Start by contacting Carers Australia, the national body representing carers in Australia. It works with the Carers Associations in each of the states and territories. Call 1800 242 636 or visit www.carersaustralia.com.au for more information and resources.

You can contact the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre to find out about community care services available in your local area. Call 1800 052 222 or visit www.commcarelink.health.gov.au.

Cancer Council offers specific support for carers through an online forum, www.cancerconnections.com.au. You can also call the Cancer Council on 13 11 20 to talk about other support services.

Taking care of yourself

Being a carer can be a demanding, tiring and stressful job. Employed carers sometimes say they feel guilty about working. It is important to look after yourself so you don’t burn out.

Tips
  • If you feel guilty, focus on the rewarding things about caring and your job.
  • Talk to your employer about flexible working arrangements, job-sharing or reducing your working hours.
  • Share your feelings with family, friends or a counsellor.
  • Try to take some time out for yourself each day.
  • Look after your health and wellbeing by eating well, seeing your doctor when you need to and trying to get enough sleep.
  • Shop online to save time and energy.
  • Try some complementary therapies, such as massage, relaxation or meditation. Call 13 11 20 for free information and audio CDs.
  • Access respite care so you can have a break.

Key points

  • A working carer is someone who supports someone through an illness or disability and also has paid employment.
  • Your decision to work may depend on many factors, such as how sick the person with cancer is, your caring duties and your finances.
  • You don’t have to tell your employer that you are a carer, but sharing this may give others an opportunity to provide support.
  • Personal leave can be used if you need to take time off work to care for someone in your family or household. You may also be able to take other types of leave.
  • Carers can request flexible working arrangements, such as part-time hours. Employers are legally obligated to consider all reasonable requests.
  • It is illegal for an employer to treat you unfairly or less favourably because you are a carer. It is also against the law to deny you opportunities, harass you or dismiss you because you are a carer.
  • Carers can get financial support from organisations such as Centrelink. It may also help to seek advice from a financial professional.
  • Take steps to prevent stress and burnout. Practical help such as counselling and respite care are provided by Carers Australia and the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre.

Reviewed by: Marie Pitton, Head of Human Resources, Mortgage Choice, NSW; Merilyn Speiser, Principal Consultant, Catalina Consultants, NSW; Helen Tayler, Belconnen Health Centre, Oncology Social Worker, ACT; Pauline Shilkin, Consumer.
Updated: 01 Jan, 2014