the workplace

Employee rights with carer status, family responsibilities and parental status

Working parents and carers are protected from discrimination when trying to balance their work arrangements with family and caring responsibilities. 

Sometimes people experience difficulties in managing their work and family responsibilities effectively. While they know how important it is to get the job done, they also know they need to look out for the people they care for. This is a challenge that many Victorian employees face daily. 

Key terms

A parent may be a biological parent, a step-parent, adoptive parent, foster parent, or guardian. 

A carer is a person on whom another person is totally or substantially dependent for ongoing care and attention. This does not include people who are paid to provide care. 

Parental or carer responsibilities relate to the employee’s role as a parent or carer – their care of a child or of another person (such as a parent, spouse, domestic partner, relative or friend) who is totally or substantially dependent on the employee for care. 

Employer responsibilities

Employers must accommodate their employees’ family and carer responsibilities where it is reasonable to do so. This requires an employer to seriously consider all requests for flexible work arrangements in relation to an employee’s responsibilities as a parent or carer. Whether a refusal to accommodate an employee’s parental or carer responsibilities is unreasonable will depend on the facts and circumstances of the particular situation.

The law

In Victoria it is against the law for an employer to discriminate against an employee or job applicant because they are a parent or a carer

It is also against the law to discriminate against a woman because she is pregnancy or breastfeeding, presumed to be pregnant, because she may become pregnant in the future, or in the return to work process after parental leave.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, employers have a positive duty to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation as far as possible.

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010:

  • applies to employers of all sizes 
  • covers all types of workers 
  • applies to all stages of employment.

Employers may have legal obligations to parents and carers under the National Employment Standards. Under these standard, an employee with 12 months continuous service may request a change in working arrangements to assist with a child’s care if they are parents or carers of:

  • a child under school age, or 
  • a child under 18 with disability.

Make a complaint

Find out about your organisation’s process for resolving complaints and ask how it incorporates issues to do with being a parent or carer, for example flexible work or breastfeeding. 

An employee can lodge a complaint of discrimination with the Commission if they believe they have been discriminated against at work because of their status as a parent or carer.