Distinguishing parents and carers in the workplace, why it matters

Many workplaces have information, policies, portals and hubs for parents caring for children. Supporting families and developing family friendly workplaces is to be applauded. Parents and guardians who access parental leave are often classified as primary or secondary carers.

However, it is important to know that there is a large group of people who are carers (1 in 8 according to Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015) that do not include parents (with some exceptions). Commonwealth legislation (based on the Carers Recognition Act 2010) defines a carer as someone who provides unpaid care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, mental illness, drug or alcohol dependency, chronic condition, terminal illness or who is frail and/or aged. While this does not exclude parents from also being carers, it does limit parent carers in this context to those caring for a child living with a disability, medical condition or mental illness.

The broad use of the word carer, can understandably cause confusion and employers may think they have been inclusive where carers are concerned, however they remain oblivious to the broader carer populations in their organisations (that are not parents or guardians).

There is good reason for carers, as defined above, to be recognised in their own right, so that their specific needs and the unique challenges associated with caring can be addressed and managed. As one carer in the Carers NSW 2016 Survey responded “Childcare is generally well accepted. Other care types (mental illness, aged care, terminal care) I feel are not completely understood and supported by management”.

Separating policies and procedures, tracking carer populations in the workplace, having workplace supports and flexible work options along with specifically acknowledging carers for their enormous contribution is so important. Given that carers typically have low levels of wellbeing and with many already exhausted from juggling paid work and care, it is important that carer friendly workplaces be cultivated.

While caring affects all age groups, most working carers are aged between 45-64 years. People in this demographic usually have substantial skills, experience and corporate knowledge which can be costly to replace. When carers can identify in the workplace and access support, clearly and easily the benefits are many for carers, their families and employers.

Carers + Employers is a national employer accreditation program that recognises carer friendly workplaces and is the first of its kind in Australia. If your organisation would like to find out more, please visit https://carersandemployers.org.au/ or email info@carersandemployers.org.au

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