Balancing act: paid work and caregiving

On average people spend 4.5 hours a day caring for their loved one. For those also balancing paid work the demands of both can be impossible to reconcile.

Knowing your legal rights and your employer's policies can go a long way in ensuring you get the support you need. 

Balancing act: paid work and caregiving

On average people spend 4.5 hours a day caring for their loved one. For those also balancing paid work the demands of both can be impossible to reconcile.

Knowing your legal rights and your employer's policies can go a long way in ensuring you get the support you need. 

When Alia began caring for her mother with late stage emphysema her life looked very different, "I was working and in a relationship."  But soon the demands of caring made it difficult for her to manage paid work. "Things quickly started to go," she adds.

When it comes to paid work and caregiving, many grapple with complicated issues about rights, entitlements and what to ask for in order to accomodate the needs of both roles.

The good news is there is help - and finding it isn't as difficult or time consuming as you might think.

Your rights under the Fair Work Act

Under the Fair Work Act, which applies nationally to most employees, caregivers have the right to ask their employer for flexible work arrangements. According to employment law expert, Associate Professor Dominique Allen from Monash University, “the idea is that they can then have a dialogue with the employer about changing their working arrangements so they can continue to work."

Employers can deny that request, but only on reasonable business grounds. “They’ve really got to look into it and give it some thought and consideration and say, ‘Would it be practicable to do this? What would this mean for us?” Dominique clarifies.

The Act also prevents employers from discriminating against caregivers. “They can’t be fired because of their caring responsibilities or demoted or denied an opportunity because of their caring responsibilities,” Dominique adds.

Some caregivers may be covered by a modern award or enterprise agreement which gives them other rights. Each state and territory also has laws preventing discrimination against employees based on their caregiving. 

Greater flexibility likely to become more common

The Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) predict the availability and breadth of flexible working arrangements will continue to increase post COVID-19, as businesses experience the benefits of a flexible, diverse workforce that takes the needs of all employees into account.

Sarah McCann-Bartlett, AHRI’s CEO, says recent research completed by Carers New South Wales and the University of Sydney has showed remote working during COVID-19 has made life easier for some carers.

She points out that organisations are realising that “helping employees manage their caring and other personal responsibilities and needs through more flexible workplaces has a positive effect on employee wellbeing, promotes workplace diversity and makes them a more attractive place to work.  

“The ever-increasing trend of part-time, remote working and other flexible work arrangements provide much needed assistance for carers, and under most awards, personal care leave now includes carers leave.”

However, Sarah acknowledges there are issues around flexible working that still need to be resolved. These include equal opportunities for career progression for people working flexibly, and the need to up-skill managers to effectively manage remote and flexible workforces. “For carers, the elimination of ‘caregiver discrimination’ is also essential,” she notes.

Support for caregivers in paid work 

When it comes to caring and end-of-life guidance, The Violet Initiative offers simple steps to help caregivers understand their role, how to make the most of their time with loved ones and what to expect in the final stages. Violet offers free support from trained guides with experience caring for a loved one and an online library of professional and personal stories to help caregivers make sense of what’s happening and what’s to come.

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Speak to a Violet Guide who knows what you’re going through because they’ve been there, too.

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