Work + Care: Information for Employers

Almost 90% of New Zealand’s 430,000+ family, whānau, and aiga carers are aged 18-65 and a majority work part or full-time. Many of those who responded to Carers NZ’s 2014 online survey about respite say they find work a welcome break from caring. Most said they enjoy the social aspects of their job and the chance to use and develop their skills.

We know, however, that often carers leave paid employment because it becomes too hard to combine work and care. As an employer, you can do a lot to ease stress and retain valued workers who support an ill, frail, injured or disabled family member or someone who has an addiction. This page looks at the practical ways you can help employees balance their work and caring responsibilities.

Benefits for your organisation

Supporting workers who have caring responsibilities goes beyond simply being a good corporate citizen. Experience shows there are tangible benefits for employers. These include:

  • Attracting and keeping skilled staff
  • Saving on recruitment costs
  • A happier, more productive workforce with fewer sick days
  • Flexibility to reorganise your workforce to reflect changes in your market

It makes good business sense to retain valuable employees even when their caring responsibilities can make it difficult to work ordinary hours, or if a carer needs occasional time off to attend medical appointments or deal with health emergencies. By supporting carers in your workforce, you can continue to reap the returns of the investment you have made in them.

Why carers quit

There are a number of triggers that may see employees who have caring responsibilities consider leaving. These include:

  • An increase in their level of caring
  • An increase in their workload 
  • A change in working hours, shift patterns or rosters 
  • The start of caring responsibilities, which can be a stressful time for families
  • A sudden health trauma or accident in the family, or a distressing diagnosis 
  • Lack of support or understanding from managers or colleagues
  • Inability to work flexibly
  • Struggling to find (and afford) reliable relief care during work hours

We encourage carers to talk to their employers about their responsibilities early in their caring journey so that, together, you can develop a plan that works for everyone. During any initial discussion, you will want to establish the nature of the care involved. This will indicate the likely impact on work, and what support options will work well for everyone.

Different caring situations include new care, short-term care, long-term care and immediate or emergency care. Here are some examples of these scenarios and how they might be expected to affect a carer’s needs:

  • An employee has just become a carer and needs time and flexibility to make alternative caring arrangements.
  • An employee has interim caring responsibilities and needs time at certain intervals, which can be accommodated in work patterns or through holiday arrangements. 
  • An employee shares caring responsibilities with others in his or her family and may require reduced hours, or different shift arrangements, to accommodate the care. 
  • Emergency circumstances can result in an employee needing short periods of time off with little notice; this may require understanding and practical support from managers and colleagues. 
  • An increase in caring responsibilities may change an employee's personal circumstances and therefore they may need more flexibility or a change in work patterns, whether this is for a short while or for a long time.
  • An employee providing ongoing support may need to take or make personal calls during work hours, or to take short periods of time off to assist with transport to medical or other appointments. Starting and finishing work at off-peak times can assist with commuting pressures in Auckland and Wellington.

In larger organisations, especially, it is easier to support workers with caring responsibilities if you have formal policies in place. Even so, it’s vital that all people in supervisory or management roles are on board with the programme and understand the benefits to the workplace.  Carers often tell us, even in organisations that are ‘carer friendly’, that their immediate supervisor is not as sympathetic as they might be.

Flexible working arrangements

Carers say the number one thing they want is the flexibility to change their working arrangements so they fit with their caring responsibilities. 

Your rights and obligations

In terms of section 6AA of the Employment Relations Amendment Act (2014) (ERAA) all employees now have the right to request flexible working arrangements,including (but not limited to) those who have caring responsibilities. Employees can request flexible work options at any stage during their employment with your organisation, and their request needs to be in writing. With the new provisions, employees are no longer limited to the number of requests they can lodge within a 12 month period, and there is also no longer a requirement for the employee to discuss or justify their reason for a request. The only consideration for the employer is the potential impact the new arrangement may have on workplace needs.

Employers are required to respond to their employee's request for flexibility within one month from the date of the initial application.

The employee can ask you to consider changes to their 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 arrangement doesn’t have a time limit, it will mean a permanent change to the worker’s employment agreement. You are not obliged to let them return to their previous working arrangements if their circumstances change. Similarly, you cannot require the employee to revert to their former working arrangements. For this reason, it’s often a good idea to negotiate a trial period for the new agreement.

Making a request

The employee needs to make their request in writing by letter or email, or by completing a form. The application for flexible work should include the following:

  • Date of request
  • Duration and nature of the changes being sought to current employment conditions
  • An outline of what changes the employer will need to make to meet the employee's requirements if the application is approved

If you don't have your own form, the employee can use this one provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Responding to a request

You are required to consider and respond to any request within one month of the initial written application. This is to give you time to assess the impact of the proposed changes on your business. (or longer if complications arise). This is to give you time to assess the impact of the proposed change on your business.

You can decline a request, but only on the grounds provided by law. You can refuse a request:

  • The inability to redistribute work among current employees
  • The inability to recruit additional employees
  • A potential detrimental impact on quality or performance
  • Insufficient work during periods the employee proposes 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
  • A potential detrimental effect on the ability to meet customer demands

 If you do turn down a request, you will need to explain your reason or reasons for doing so. Being clear and specific will make it easier for your employee to accept your decision. Alternatively, while you may not be able to accommodate the original request, you may be able to suggest an alternative arrangement that is acceptable to both parties. Experience shows the workplace benefits of coming to a ‘win/win’ makes the effort worthwhile.

You might find these Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment forms useful:

Useful links

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

Other ways of helping

Flexible working arrangements aren’t the only benefit that can help workers juggle jobs, children and family members who need support. Employers can develop policies to support backup for workers with young children and elderly relatives. This could include a specific carers’ policy which formally recognises employees who are carers, and sets out support options offered by your organisation. You might also like to consider providing:

  • occupational health or HR information, advice and support specifically about carer issues, and
  • information and guidance for managers and their workers with caring responsibilities.

Carer networks

Carers can feel isolated and alone, and it helps to have a safe and confidential forum to talk to others in similar situations, to share experiences and information, and offer mutual support. These networks may include an online forum and face to face meetings. They work well when led by a member of staff who has caring responsibilities, with the support of a designated manager. Networks can also be used to gather information about what carers need, to monitor current policies and practices, and to develop new ones.

In the United Kingdom and other countries, many workplaces now host regular carer meetings. These events, held during working hours, allow carers to connect with one another, receive useful information, and give feedback to managers responsible for decision-making that affects carers.

Support from Carers NZ

Carers NZ can help if you would like to organise a carer information day, or a workplace-based support group. This could be your own initiative or one conducted in partnership with other employers, unions or other industry organisations. We can offer advice, information packs, and copies of our magazine Family Care for your workplace meetings, and suggest topics for discussion to get these started. We can also put you in touch with other employers (here and in the UK) who have such networks. A further option is to create an information page for carers at your workplace intranet, linking through to our website, downloadable information pack, and other resources.

Employment for Caring

Employment for Caring is a programme designed to help working carers and their employers. Its leadership group includes Carers NZ, Business NZ, the NZ Carers Alliance, the NZ Council of Trade Unions, the Ministry of Social Development, Work and Income, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. Employer representatives include Bupa, the Waitemata District Health Board, the University of Auckland, and diversity consultant Carol Brown, whose clients include some of New Zealand’s largest companies.

The group meets regularly to plan information, events and approaches to Government to ensure progress for working carers, those returning to paid employment, and carers who may need to retrain to find a more ‘carer friendly’ job. The initiative is similar to, and has close ties with, Employers for Carers UK. To learn more or to seek advice about how to make your workplace carer friendly, phone the National Carer Resource Centre, 0800 777 797, or email centre@carers.net.nz 

Reading and resources

Articles

Decisions about staying in the workforce, or returning to work, need careful thought. In this article, two carers at different life stages share their experiences.

This article investigates the issues associated with the ‘sandwich generation’ – people managing the demands of supporting both growing children and ageing parents – with advice from Relationships Aotearoa.

Interviews

Helping Working Carers and Employers

Meet Dame Caroline Waters, Vice President of Carers UK and Deputy Chair of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission. When visiting New Zealand, Caroline talked about the benefits flexible working offers employers, carers, the government and the country. Caroline acts as Overseas Advisor to New Zealand's Employment for Caring leadership group.

Listen to an interview with Caroline.

Wellbeing at work

When interviewed, Carl Stent was the National Manager Safety and Wellbeing at infrastructure and roading giant Fulton Hogan which has 5,500 staff in New Zealand and Australia. Carl understands the needs of carers and employers in the workplace. He has studied and observed interactions between employers and carers returning to the workforce, and says extraordinary results can be achieved with the right attitudes and actions.

Listen to an interview with Carl.

Useful links

Read more about flexible working arrangements at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s website.

Keep up to date with workplace developments of interest to carers in New Zealand at:

Global websites of interest: