Many people who care for someone with cancer are also employed. Your caring duties and your job may both be important and necessary parts of your life, but sometimes people find it difficult to balance the needs of both roles.
Who is a working carer?
A working carer combines paid employment with unpaid personal care, assistance and support to a person who needs this help because of an illness or disability.
There are many different types of caring situations:
- You may be a partner, relative, friend or neighbour.
- The person 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 medicines), 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. See a list of things to consider. 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 need, your concentration, and your emotional and physical wellbeing.
Who is covered?
Under the Fair Work Act 2009, carer’s leave is available for:
- immediate family members – an employee’s spouse, de facto partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling (or the child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the employee’s spouse or de facto partner)
- household members – any person who lives with the employee.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 also protects carers of people with cancer from workplace discrimination, including family members (spouse, de facto partner and other relatives) and unrelated carers who provide assistance to a person affected by cancer. State and territory anti-discrimination laws generally provide similar protection, except in the Northern Territory.
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
- how supportive your employer is
- your finances and whether you need to earn an income
- your leave entitlements
- whether you can arrange a reduction or change in working hours or move to a different position within your organisation
- the satisfaction you get from working
- whether a break will have a large impact on your career progression or future employability
- what will give you peace of mind
- whether the arrangment is likely to be temporary or long-term.
Before making changes to your working arrangements, 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 carersaustralia.com.au or call the Carer Advisory Service on 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 accommodating of your needs. It may also help you to access carer’s leave and flexible working arrangements. Before talking to your employer, investigate the policies your workplace has for employees with caring responsibilities or what your award says. See more information on your rights at work.
You might discuss:
- the impact of caring responsibilities on your work commitments
- taking time off or setting up flexible working arrangements
- if the caring role is likely to be short-term or long-term
- ways your employer may be able to support you
- the benefits for your employer if you stay in your position
- who should know about your situation, and whether you want to share information with your colleagues.
If you are considering resigning, talk to your employer. They may not want to lose you and may suggest some options to help you remain at work that you hadn’t considered.
If you tell your colleagues about your caring role, they may be a source of support or provide some ideas for how the team can adapt to your changed needs. 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.
Flexible working arrangements
- Carers have the right under the Fair Work Act 2009 to request adjustments to their work hours, work location or pattern of work. They must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months.
- You need to ask in writing, giving details of the change you want and the reasons for this requested change.
- Suggest realistic and workable options that show you have thought about how the needs of the workplace can also be met.
- Your employer needs to accept or refuse your request in writing within 21 days of receiving it.
- Your employer should take reasonable steps to accommodate your caring responsibilities. They can only refuse your request on reasonable business grounds, and they have to tell you their reasons.
- Talk to your manager or human resources department to see if you can arrange some flexible work practices.
- Many employers are aware of the challenges working carers face. Your manager may try to be flexible.
- See more information on protections for carers under anti-discrimination laws.
Taking time off work
You may need time off work or to 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, which includes sick leave and carer’s leave.
The National Employment Standards outline the rules for personal leave, including allocating 10 days of paid personal leave each year to full-time employees. Part-time employees receive this entitlement on a pro-rata basis. Some employers may have rules about taking personal leave.
If you’re considering using annual leave or long service leave, you may want to talk to your employer about your situation. It might be possible to organise flexible working arrangements (see above) or take unpaid leave so you don’t have to use all of your paid entitlements.
See more information about the different types of leave available under the National Employment Standards.
If you ask for paid personal leave or unpaid carer’s leave, your employer can request basic facts about why you need time off. Your employer may require medical documentation supporting a request for extended leave. This allows your manager to approve the leave and make sure it’s recorded correctly.
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.
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, however both the carer and the person receiving care have to meet other eligibility requirements. Contact Centrelink on 132 717 or go to humanservices.gov.au to check if you are eligible.
Seek professional help from a financial counsellor to set up a budget or speak to a social worker to see what assistance is available. 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.
Support for carers
Carers sometimes need assistance to keep caring for the person who needs their help. Examples of support include counselling, community nurses, 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 state and territory. Visit carersaustralia.com.au or call 1800 242 636 for more information and resources, including information on respite services and short-term counselling. Oncology social workers can also offer support and referral services to caregivers.
Contact the Commonwealth Respite and Carelink Centre to find out about community care services available in your local area on 1800 052 222, or visit carergateway.gov.au to find a service.
Cancer Council offers support for carers through Cancer Council Online Community. You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to talk about support groups and other support services, or see Caring for Someone with Cancer.
Looking after yourself
It can be difficult to find the time to look after your own health and wellbeing when you are trying to balance the demands of your job with your caring responsibilities. Maintaining your fitness and eating well will help you cope with the demands of both roles.
Tips for working carers
- Talk to your employer about flexible working arrangements, job-sharing or reducing your working hours.
- If you feel guilty about working, focus on the rewarding and satisfying aspects of both your caring role and your job.
- Share your feelings with family, friends, workmates or a counsellor.
- Youmaybeabletotalktoa counsellor through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
- Accept help from your workmates when it is offered.
- Try to take some time out for yourself each day.
- Plan respite care in advance so you can have a break.
- Look after your health and wellbeing by eating well, seeing your doctor when you need to and trying to get enough sleep.
- Try some complementary therapies, such as massage, relaxation or meditation. Call 13 11 20 for more information and audio CDs.
- Shop online to save time and energy.
- Stay involved in activities you enjoy. It’s a good stress relief and will give you something else to think and talk about aside from caring.
- For more tips on combining work and care, visit workingcarers.org.au.
"My employer has an assistance program with six free counselling sessions. I’d recommend that to anyone – just having someone to lean on and talk to is helpful." – Stephen
- A working carer is a person 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, whether the caring role is temporary or long-term, your caring duties, your role at work, and your finances.
- You don’t have to tell your employer or colleagues that you are a carer, but sharing this information may give them an opportunity to provide support.
- Permanent employees can use personal leave (also called carer’s leave) if they need to take time off work to care for someone in their family or household.
- Eligible employees can also use annual leave, long service leave and unpaid leave.
- If you are thinking about resigning, talk to your employer, family and friends, and seek professional financial advice before making a decision.
- Carers can request flexible working arrangements, such as part-time hours or working from home. Employers are legally obligated to consider all reasonable requests.
- 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. Carers Australia provides information as well as practical help, such as short-term counselling.
- There are specific support services for carers of all ages, such as counselling, home help, respite services and support groups.
Expert content reviewers:
Carolyn Butcher, Chief People and Development Officer, Thomson Geer, VIC; Karen Hall, Clinical Nurse, Cancer Services Division, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; Deborah Lawson, Legal Policy Advisor, McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Phil Mendoza- Jones, Consumer; Jeanne Potts, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council VIC; Helen Tayler, Social Worker and Counsellor, Cancer Counselling Service, Belconnen Community Health Centre, ACT.