Work + Care: Information for Carers

Caring commitments can sometimes affect your ability to work in the same way as co-workers who do not have such responsibilities. You may be worried that you will lose your job or have to give up paid employment. But there are lots of ways to continue working if you talk to your employer, and develop a plan together that works for everyone.

It’s important to talk with your manager or employer so they know you support an ill, elderly, or disabled family member, someone who is recovering from an injury, or who has an addiction. If you work for a larger organisation, talk to your Human Resources department about your responsibilities. Your organisation may have specific policies and procedures that are relevant to carers.

It may also help to talk to colleagues about your caring situation and gain their support. They may be able to back you up if there is an emergency or you need to be absent from work. It’s useful to ask colleagues if they have experience juggling work and care, and how the organisation has handled it.

Talking to your employer

You may not need to make any specific changes to your usual working arrangements, but you do want your employer’s understanding and cooperation if something crops up. It’s a good idea to keep them in the loop. It’s better for your boss to understand the reasons you’re coming in late or seem preoccupied than to let him or her draw their own conclusions. Chances are that your employer will appreciate your honesty and sense of responsibility toward your family and your job. Make a time to talk to them about your caring responsibilities.

Explaining your situation

When you meet, explain your caring situation positively and state that you want to work and care at the same time. Don’t apologise for caring. Privacy laws protect you and the person you support. You do not have to go into detail about your relationship to the person you are supporting or their medical or other conditions etc.

Explain what support you might need from time to time in order to balance your work and caring responsibilities. Make it clear that you have considered the impact of any request on your position and your colleagues, and that your colleagues support you (if you have discussed this with them).

For example, you could say something like “Joan is happy to cover for me if I have to take an extended lunch hour or leave work during my shift. I can make this time up later.”

It will help your case if you frame any request in such a way that it will cause the least trouble for everyone.

Give a timeframe for your request if you can (“I expect my caring responsibilities to last for X number of months”).

Or, you might want to say something like “this is a long-term commitment for me but I will keep you informed about what is happening”.

Flexible working arrangements

While it’s a good idea to talk to your supervisor, manager or employer face to face, any formal request for changes to your working arrangements needs to be made in writing. In terms of section 6AA of the Employment Relations Amendment Act (2014) (ERAA), all employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements. This means you have a legal right to ask your employer for changes to your working arrangements, and even though you may wish to, you are not required to provide details about the reason for your request.

Your rights and obligations

As an employee, you can request flexible work options at any stage of your employment with your organisation, as long as the request is in writing. Your employer may have a standard form they use, but if not, you can use this one provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment:

Making a request

In your application, you must specify the following:

  • Date of request
  • Duration and nature of the changes being sought to current employment conditions
  • An outline of what changes your employer will need to meet your requirements, if the application is successful

The type of changes you request may include a change in hours, days, or place of work. This could mean part-time work, compressed hours, ‘glide time’ shift work, working from home, or more time off during school holidays. The arrangement can be open-ended or for a fixed period.

If the proposed arrangement is open ended (i.e. no time limit), it may mean a permanent change to your employment agreement. Once a permanent change is made to your working conditions, this will be documented in your employment contract. It is important to note that if your circumstances change and you would like to revert back to your original employment conditions, your employer is not obliged to do so. For this reason, it is often a good idea to negotiate a trial period for the new agreement, which will give you some time to determine whether it is working well for you and your employer.

Should your initial application not be successful, you can submit a new application as and when it suits you, as there is no limit to the number of applications you may submit in any 12 month period. Your employer is required to respond to your application for flexibility in writing within one month from the date of your initial application.

Responding to a request

Your employer is required to consider and respond to any request within one month of the date of the request. This is to give them time to assess the impact of the proposed change on your workplace. Your employer can decline a request, but only on the grounds provided by law. They can refuse a request:

  • if it conflicts with a collective agreement, or
  • on one or more of the following grounds:
    – the inability to reorganise work among existing staff
    – the inability to recruit additional employees
    – a potential detrimental impact on quality or performance
    – insufficient work during the periods you propose to work
    – planned structural changes
    – it creates an additional burden on the organisation in terms of costs and/or resources, the
     arrangement cannot be easily accommodated, or there will be a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand

Useful links

You’ll find detailed information about your rights and responsibilities on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s website.

Tips on making a request

You can make your request in writing by letter or email, but using a form designed specifically for these requests will make it easier to make sure you cover everything.

To give your request the best chance of success, make sure you:

  • Provide as much detail as possible about the working arrangement you would like and why.
  • Show how your plans would not have a negative effect in your workplace and may in fact improve it.
  • Talk to your wider team to get their input into how it may best work for them, taking into account their requirements as well as those of your customers or clients.
  • Show how any potential problems can be overcome.

Your employer will make their decision on business grounds, so it’s a good idea to demonstrate that you’ve thought about your request from the point of view of meeting their needs. Here’s an example.

James works as a sales consultant at a large computer and electronics store. His young son Connor, who has special needs, goes to day care each week day from 9 until 3. His partner finishes work in time to collect Connor at the end of the day, but it would help James to have a later start time so he has time to deliver his son to day care and arrive in time for work. He has spoken to his colleagues who are happy to ‘open up’ and look after the first trickle of customers. James suggests he makes up the time during the busier lunch hour. In his request for flexible working arrangements, he explains that the new arrangement would leave him less stressed in the mornings and more able to be ‘on his game’ from the moment he arrives. It would take the pressure off the other staff during the busiest time of the day and improve service and sales during the lunch period.

Don’t be anxious about approaching your boss. Experience shows that offering flexible working arrangements has benefits for employers as well as employees. In all likelihood, they will accommodate your request if they possibly can.

Sorting out problems

As flexible work options are now available to all employees who may request flexible work for a range of reasons (including, but not limited to caring) there may be differences in workplaces regarding the level of support employers are willing to provide in this area. Some employers have mainstreamed flexible work in such a way that there is no negative stigma attached to working flexibly, while in other organisations a bigger cultural shift is needed.

Regardless, you should still feel able to ask for support, and your employer should respond positively unless there is good cause not to. Chances are, your employer understands the benefits of offering flexible work options and will be sympathetic.

If you feel harassed or discriminated against, keep a written log or diary of all incidents. Talk to the person or people involved first and try to resolve the issue. If you are a member of a union, seek its advice.

Your employer may have a policy in place to deal with workplace grievances that you can use. You can also get help with written complaints from other sources such as your union, community services, community legal centres, and other advocates who can talk to your employer with you, or on your behalf.

This is particularly important if you find it hard to put things into writing. Often a simple phone call to remind your employer of their legal obligations will be enough to make sure you get your entitlements.

Combining work and care

Continue to be open with your employer and colleagues about your caring responsibilities and the time you take off and make up. Review the situation with your employer and colleagues regularly, and ask if anything could be done differently.

Be sure to thank those at work for the consideration and help you receive. If you have time, volunteer to help someone else who has heavy family or other responsibilities with their workload.

Whenever possible, avoid mixing work with caring. If you have to make phone calls or search the Internet for information related to the needs of the person you support, do this during breaks.

Manage your time well at home and at work. Set priorities, and then accomplish the most important items on your list first. Delegate responsibilities at work and at home; others can almost always take some of the burden, especially for short periods.

Pace yourself, and don’t do so much in one area that you can’t be effective in another. And make sure you pay attention to your health. Eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. Try to make time to enjoy yourself even when your schedule is packed. Fun is important. Take a break when the pressure gets too great; even a short walk or a hot bath can relieve stress. You’ll find lots of useful information and ideas in our Respite and wellbeing section.

If working isn’t working

With support from your employer and colleagues, there’s every chance you will be able to balance your caring and work roles successfully. But don’t beat yourself up if there are a few bumps along the way. You’re doing your best in a difficult situation.

You’ll need to consider your options if juggling work and care is too hard. Maybe job sharing or working part-time would work better for you? Or you might want to think about working as a freelancer or contractor, or picking up casual ‘temp’ work where you can turn down assignments if they don’t fit with your caring responsibilities.

Leaving the workforce is a big decision. Take time to think it through. You might want to call a family meeting to sort out expectations. Talk to others who have made the decision to leave work in order to concentrate on their caring role.

Review your family’s needs, and if the person you support has not recently had a needs assessment, organise a new one to ensure your family is considered for important supports such as respite, Carer Support, continence supplies, disability equipment, home modifications, transport assistance, and available kinds of community help.

Getting help and support

Think about your own needs. It’s a good idea to strengthen your support network: find out about local carer groups, and pursue friendships and hobby possibilities to make sure you have regular breaks from caring. Think about your own goals and ambitions. Is your time as a carer an opportunity for distance learning or retraining, so you can confidently re-enter the workforce one day?

Careers NZ is a Government initiative to help get people working and it’s a great place to start if you need help or advice. Its website has a wealth of information and online tools to assist with career planning, job hunting, education and training. It also has a team of professional career advisors you can talk to free (0800 222 733) and you can also chat online.

Other ideas:

  • Visit the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income’s website, which has many good tools to help you consider financial options.
  • Visit your nearest Work and Income office to discuss your family situation and find out about sources of help.
  • Review the helpful A Guide for Carers booklet to learn about what subsidies and benefits could be available for you and your family.

Useful links

Returning to work

Going back into the workforce after a period of caring can be daunting. Plan carefully for this, especially if your family member has recently entered formal care or passed away. This is a time of enormous transition for you.

Any time of change can be difficult, but it also presents opportunities. Think through your options. Do you want to work full-time or part-time? In the same type of work you did before, or would you like a fresh start? Do you want a job with lots of responsibility, or one that is more straightforward? Even if you have not been receiving benefits, talk to Work and Income or your nearest job centre. They can offer ideas about options in your area of interest.

If you have lost confidence during your time of caring, consider signing up for a distance learning or personal development programme like those offered by The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. Investigate what sources of support may be available. Graduate Women New Zealand, for example, offers scholarships, grants and awards for women to undertake retraining or ‘second chance’ education.

Again, Careers NZ is a great place to start if you need help or advice on returning to work.

Useful links