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Staff who are carers

Some staff have caring responsibilities. They might care for elderly parents, young children or sick relatives.

Equal opportunity law says that, within reason, employers must make reasonable accommodation for staff’s caring responsibilities.

What’s reasonable?

Sarah was employed in a call centre. She needed time off to care for her mother with Alzheimer’s. Having nearly used up all her annual and carer’s leave, she applied for long service leave. Her employer said he needed all hands on deck right now. So she asked for leave without pay, but the boss told her that she must return to work or he’d find someone else to do the work.

Sarah then sought to negotiate alternative duties that would at least enable her to work at times when other people could care for her mother. The only alternative duties on offer were variable shift work, which would require her to be available to work as early as 4:00 am and as late as 11:00 pm. She could not arrange alternate care for her mother at these hours, so contacted the Equal Opportunity Commission.

The employer might have been acting reasonably in saying this to Sarah. If management had offered all that was reasonable, and there were good business reasons why she could not be given the leave she wanted or a more suitable shift, then it is not discrimination.

Indirect discrimination

If a business makes requirements of its employers that are especially difficult for carers to meet, this might be against the law.

For example:

A workplace changes a shift time from 9:00 am to 8:00 am. This change makes it difficult for a worker who is caring for a disabled relation to get an earlier replacement, and so it is often impossible to get to work on time.

It could be reasonable for the employer to find a way to allow this carer to start later when necessary.

If this is not possible for the employer to do, or if the employer can’t reasonably allow it, then it may not be unlawful discrimination. But if the Commission took up this worker’s complaint, one of the things it would look at is how unreasonable it was for the business to refuse.

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