In Australia, there are many employees who combine paid work with caring for someone with a disability, mental illness, chronic condition or terminal illness or someone who is frail aged.
The Benefits of Investing in Carers at Work
Providing specific workplace arrangements for these carers has significant benefits for employers, including staff retention, improved productivity and job satisfaction of employees, which in turn reduces recruitment and training costs.
Offering flexible workplace provisions which allow employees to combine paid work with an unpaid caring role is essential to enable businesses to foster a productive, efficient and effective workforce.
The financial impact of staff turnover can be considerable – around a third of the annual salary of an employee. This is due to the costs of recruitment, training and the loss of productivity in the lead up to an employee leaving, and before a new staff member is up to speed. By providing flexibility which allows staff to balance work and care, your organisation is more likely to hold onto experienced employees.
Implementing flexible work practices can help an organisation to focus more clearly on outputs and outcomes, rather than concentrating on the hours that employees are attending the workplace. It helps to clarify tasks and encourages multi-skilling across teams. Furthermore, less stressed employees are more likely to be productive employees.
Fundamentally, if you look after your staff, they will look after your clients and customers. Providing flexible provisions for employees such as extended start and finish times can also enhance the customer experience by providing services outside of standard business hours. This can be a competitive advantage for your organisation.
Employees who feel reluctant to request changes to their working practices or who are unable to utilise leave for caring responsibilities will often resort to taking personal leave to deal with caring emergencies. By providing workers with real options to help them balance work and care, and encouraging employees to take up these provisions, your organisation can reduce the stress on carers and reduce staff absenteeism.
Implementing flexible working arrangements has been found not only to benefit existing employees, but also acts as an incentive for job-seekers to choose that employer. By virtue of the nature and demands of their caring role, carers are also often highly organised and committed employees who value supportive employers and are dedicated and loyal in return.
Staff who feel they are understood and supported by their employer are more likely to be loyal and productive workers. Investing in services and supports for staff that foster a positive environment will improve the workplace experience of all employees, and this culture can flow through the entire organisation.
Regardless of whether your workplace currently has employees who identify as carers, it makes sense to implement carer-friendly policies. Providing staff with information about caring will help to build their resilience to potential change, and may improve their capacity to keep working if they need to take on a caring role.
Balancing Work & Caring Responsibilities
There are many reasons why carers combine the responsibilities of work and caring – financial necessity, to have a break from their caring role, or the simple opportunity to get out of the house and interact with others.
Whatever the reason, maintaining both paid work and an unpaid caring role can be incredibly stressful – many carers describe it as like trying to hold down two full-time jobs.
It is up to you whether you feel comfortable telling your employer about your caring role. It is natural to feel nervous or hesitant – many of us prefer to keep our personal lives separate from work.
However, in order to access certain flexible provisions or leave arrangements (such as carer’s leave) it may be in your interests to let your employer know about your circumstances. Remember that you don’t need to go into detail about your relationship to the person you care for or their medical condition if you don’t want to.
To help you decide whether to tell your manager about your caring role, you may want to find out about what policies your workplace has for employees with caring responsibilities. You may be surprised to find that there are workplace provisions you weren’t previously aware of. Being aware of your rights and entitlements before speaking with management will also help you prepare for discussions.
Every workplace is different, and only you can decide whether you feel comfortable sharing your personal circumstances with other staff members. You may decide that you’re happy for everyone to know, or you may prefer to tell only one or two close colleagues.
It’s important to remember that coming to an agreement with your employer on alternative work and leave arrangements will inevitably have an impact on other staff in your team. While you should not be expected to negotiate any changes to your colleagues’ working hours, you may find it useful to chat with other team members about your situation before talking to management. Other staff might have ideas about how the team can accommodate your need for flexibility, or you might find that some of your colleagues are also carers.
Workplace Entitlements for Carers
The National Employment Standards (NES) are 10 minimum employment entitlements that have to be provided to all employees – regardless of the award, registered agreement or employment contract that applies.
The NES establish minimum entitlements for permanent employees to receive access to a range of conditions including:
- Paid personal/carer’s leave.
- Unpaid carer’s leave.
- Paid or unpaid compassionate leave.
Sick and carer’s leave (also known as personal leave) lets an employee take time off to help them deal with personal illness, caring responsibilities and family emergencies.
The minimum entitlement to paid personal/carer’s leave for an employee (other than a casual employee) is 10 days per year. Part-time employees get pro rata of 10 days each year depending on the hours worked.
Note: Paid carer’s leave generally comes out of the employee’s personal leave balance.
An employee may take paid personal/carer’s leave:
- If they are unfit for work because of their own personal illness or injury.
- To provide care or support to a member of their immediate family or household, because of personal illness, injury or unexpected emergency affecting the member.
- A member of the employee’s immediate family means a spouse, de facto partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of an employee; or a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the employee’s spouse or de facto partner.
When paid personal/carer’s leave is taken, the minimum requirement is that an employee must be paid at their base rate of pay for the ordinary hours they would have worked during the period.
The NES require that all employees, including casual employees, get up to two days unpaid carer’s leave each time an immediate family member or household member of the employee needs care and support because of illness, injury or an unexpected emergency.
An employee may take unpaid carer’s leave for each occasion as a single continuous period of up to two days, or any separate periods to which the employee and his or her employer agree.
All employees (including casual employees) are entitled to compassionate leave, also known as bereavement leave.
Compassionate leave can be taken when a member of an employee’s immediate family or household dies or suffers a life-threatening illness or injury. Immediate family is an employee’s spouse, de facto partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling (or child, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the employee’s spouse or de facto partner). Employees can also take compassionate leave for other relatives (eg. Cousins, aunts and uncles) if they are a member of the employee’s household, or if the employer agrees to this.
An employee may take compassionate leave for each occasion as:
- a single continuous two day period or;
- two separate periods of one day each or;
- any separate periods to which the employee and his or her employer agree.
If an employee (other than a casual employee) takes a period of compassionate leave, the employer must pay the employee at the employee’s base rate of pay for the ordinary hours they would have worked during the period.
Casual employees are not entitled to any paid personal/carer’s leave or paid compassionate leave. However, casuals are entitled to unpaid carer’s leave or unpaid compassionate leave.
Right to Request Flexible Working Arrangements
The Fair Work Act 2009 provides employees in the national workplace relations system with a legal right to request flexible working arrangements. To be eligible, employees must have worked for their employer for at least 12 months on a full-time or part-time basis. Long term casual employees who have a reasonable expectation of ongoing employment are also eligible.
Employees are eligible to request flexible working arrangements in the following circumstances:
- The employee is a parent, or has responsibility for the care of a child who is of school age or younger.
- The employee is a carer – within the meaning of the Carer Recognition Act 2010.
- The employee has a disability.
- The employee is 55 or older.
- The employee is experiencing violence from a member of the employee’s family.
- The employee provides care or support to a member of their immediate family or household who requires care or support because they are experiencing violence from the member’s family.
Note: state or territory laws about flexible working arrangements apply if they give employees a better entitlement than the National Employment Standards.
Flexible working arrangements may apply to:
- Hours of work (eg. changes to start and finish times).
- Patterns of work (eg. split shifts or job sharing).
- Locations of work (eg. working from home).
An employee must:
- Ask the employer in writing.
- Give details of the change they want.
- Give the reasons why they’re asking for the change.
The employer must accept or refuse the request in writing within 21 days of getting the request. The employer can only refuse a request for specific reasons.
Employers can only refuse on ‘reasonable business grounds’. If an employer refuses a request, they have to give reasons.
Reasonable business grounds include when the new working arrangements:
- Are too expensive for the employer to implement.
- Would result in a significant loss in efficiency or productivity.
- Would be likely to have a significant negative impact on customer service.
Other reasonable business grounds include:
- There isn’t any capacity to change the working arrangements of other employees affected.
- That it would be impractical to change the working arrangements of other employees, or recruit new employees.
If there are reasonable business grounds to refuse a request for flexible working arrangements, employers should look at:
- How the change would affect the workplace’s finances, efficiency, productivity and customer service.
- How easy it is for current staff to cover work.
- How easy it is to find someone else to do the work.
- The arrangements needed to accommodate the employee’s request.
If a request is refused the written response must include details of the reason for refusal.
Carers + Employers
The Carers + Employers program defines best practice standards for supporting staff with caring responsibilities. Organisations that meet these standards can be recognised as an ‘Accredited Carer Employer’, enabling them to embed innovative strategies across their organisation.
Employers not yet in a position to undertake the accreditation process can gain access to a network membership, bringing together organisations interested in sharing ideas and learning from best practice approaches to supporting carers in the workforce.
For more information and to get your accreditation process underway, visit www.carersandemployers.org.au