On this page: Who is a working carer? | Will I be able to work? | Talking to your employer | Taking time off work | Discrimination, harassment and unfair dismissal | Financial help for carers | Support for carers | Taking 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.
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 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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.