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Parent and carer status

Most of us will become parents or carers at some point in our lives, and we have a right to fair treatment to help us balance our responsibilities – whether that’s at work, in a restaurant or at the doctor. While mothers can find it difficult to negotiate flexible work arrangements, we know that fathers can face even greater discrimination when trying to balance their work and parenting responsibilities. Fortunately there are laws to protect all parents and carers.

A father lovingly kisses his young son who has a similar hairstyle to him.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

What is parent or carer discrimination?

Parent or carer discrimination is when someone treats you unfairly, including bullying you, because you are a parent or carer.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, parental status includes:

  • biological parents
  • step parents
  • foster parents
  • adoptive parents
  • guardians.

Carer status refers to someone who has total or considerable responsibility for ongoing care and support of another person. The person may be a child, a partner, a parent, a relative or a friend. Carer status does not apply to people who are paid to provide care.

Examples of parent or carer discrimination

  • A workplace requiring all staff to work full time and refusing to consider any requests for flexible work arrangements from those with family responsibilities.
  • A cinema refusing to let a parent take a pram into the theatre, without providing a safe alternative space to store it.
  • A travel company refusing a booking for parents with babies or young children.

How does the law protect me?

Discrimination is against the law if it happens in an area of public life such as:

Under the Equal Opportunity Act, duty holders (such as employers, schools, and goods and service providers) have a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation in these areas, as far as possible.

It is also against the law to victimise a person, which means treat them badly, because they have made complaint about discrimination or helped someone else make a complaint.

You can make a complaint

Get help from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

You can make a complaint to us if you think you have experienced:

If you wish, someone else can make a complaint for you. Find out how the Commission helps people resolve complaints.

We can also give you information about your rights.

Parent and carer discrimination at work

In 2020-21 the majority of parent and carer complaints were work related, including: 

  • 80% of carer discrimination complaints  
  • 82% of parental status complaints

(Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Annual Report 2020-21). 

Men are more likely than women to be refused requests for flexible work arrangements. 

Marginalised groups also report high rates of being refused requests: 

  • 43% of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people 
  • 33% of temporary work visa holders 
  • 23% of people who speak a language other than English at home 
  • 28% of LGBTIQ+ people 
  • 24% of carers  

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission COVID-19 flexible workplaces snapshot (2021). 

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency reports that despite 70% of Australian workplaces having a formal policy in place to support flexible work arrangements for their employees, less than 2% have set targets for men’s engagement in flexible work. 

While a person is responsible for their own unlawful behaviour, employers can also be held responsible.

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

Victoria is unique in having a positive duty, which creates an opportunity to prevent unlawful behaviour. It helps organisations put a healthy workplace culture in place, just as occupational health and safety laws require employers to take appropriate steps to ensure injuries don’t occur.

To ensure they are complying with the positive duty, organisations should also put measures in place to ensure that complaints are responded to swiftly and appropriately when they do arise.

The positive duty applies to employers of all sizes, regardless of whether they are a major company or a small cafe, and covers all types of workers:

  • full-time, part-time and casual employees
  • agents and contract workers
  • trainees and apprentices.

It applies to all stages of employment, including:

Examples of parent and carer discrimination in the workplace

  • Restructuring the organisation in order to make a staff member on parental leave redundant.
  • Workplace policy that denies a bonus to employees who have taken leave due to their carer responsibilities.
  • Dismissing someone who has caring responsibilities for a relative.
  • Only allowing mothers to work flexibly and expecting fathers to work full time.

Flexible work

Having the option of secure part-time and flexible work is good news for everyone. It means mums are more likely to stay in the paid workforce. It gives dads a chance to be more active parents. Children get to see their parents more, carers can better manage their responsibilities outside of work, and employers retain good workers.

By law, employers must seriously consider requests for flexible work arrangements made by parents and carers. Flexible work could include changing work hours, working from home, job sharing or going part-time.

Are there any exceptions to the law?

There are some exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act that mean it’s not against the law to discriminate in particular circumstances. For example, discrimination is not against the law if there is a real risk to someone’s health, safety or property.

Find out more about exceptions.

My human rights under the Charter

Every Victorian has the right to equal and effective protection against discrimination, and to enjoy their human rights without discrimination.

Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities contains 20 basic rights that promote and protect the values of freedom, respect, equality, and dignity.

The Victorian Government, local councils and other public authorities must always consider Charter rights, including the right to equality, when they create laws, develop policies and deliver their services.

Find out more about your human rights under the Charter and what to do if you think they have been breached.

Related resources

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Address
Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

General enquiries
enquiries@veohrc.vic.gov.au

Reception
1300 891 848

Enquiry line
1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

Interpreters
1300 152 494

NRS Voice Relay
1300 555 727 then use 1300 292 153

Media enquiries
0447 526 642

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission stands on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung Peoples of the Kulin Nation. We recognise their cultures, histories, diversity and deep connection to this land and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.

Sovereignty has never been ceded – this land always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.