Parent and Carer Discrimination

Picture of cover of Parent or Carer discrimination brohure, with photos of a man holding a small boy above his head and a mother and daughter doing homework Download PDF

Is parent or carer discrimination unlawful?

Yes it is unlawful in most circumstances

Everyone has the right to be treated equally and fairly. The Discrimination Act 1991 makes it unlawful to treat someone unfavourably because of their role as a parent or carer, just as it is unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of their sex, race or disability.

“A carer means a person on whom another person is dependent for ongoing care and assistance”.

A dependent person may be a child, a partner, a parent, a relative or a friend.

Carers may be looking after someone with a disability, a mental illness, a chronic condition or the frail aged.

The Discrimination Act provides for exceptions, and for positive discrimination or ‘special measures’ to meet particular needs. For information about exceptions that may apply please contact the Human Rights Commission.

Direct and indirect discrimination

Direct discrimination occurs when a person is treated unfairly or unequally because of their status as a carer.

  • Example – a man is refused a job that he applied for because the employer thinks he will be distracted at work by his carer responsibilities for his mentally ill child.

Indirect discrimination occurs when a requirement (or rule) that appears to be neutral and the same for everyone, in fact has the effect of disadvantaging someone because of their parental or carer responsibilities.

  • Example – an employer has a policy that only full time staff may have access to training and promotion. People with caring responsibilities are more likely to work part-time. If the requirement is reasonable it may be lawful. Otherwise it may be indirect discrimination.

Case Study 1

A man had worked ten years for the same company when his elderly father developed dementia and required additional care. The man took time off from work to care for him. During an interview for a promotion, he was asked questions about his responsibility as a carer and was then refused the promotion.

Case Study 2

A woman was shocked when told she no longer had a job after taking 12 months maternity leave. She complained that her employer assumed she couldn’t do her job because she now cared for two children. After investigation and conciliation by the Human Rights Commision, the employer agreed to provide compensation.

Discrimination in public life:

Discrimination is against the law when it happens in public life. Examples include:

  • Employment – A woman is demoted after returning from maternity leave. A man loses his job after taking some time off to care for his elderly mother.
  • Education – An educational institution rejects an applicant because she has carer responsibilities for her disabled partner, or does not accept care for a sick child as a valid reason for not meeting an assignment deadline.
  • Accommodation – A family with two children is refused the lease of a house because the agent wants to promote the estate as a luxury child-free complex.

What can I do about discrimination?

You may choose to lodge a complaint of discrimination with the Human Rights Commission. The Commission considers complaints and tries to resolve them by conciliation. Where conciliation is successful, the agreement reached is put in writing and can be enforced in the same way as if it were an order of the Discrimination Tribunal.

In addition to handling complaints of discrimination, the Human Rights Commission provides information and community education about rights and responsibilities under discrimination law and the Human Rights Act 2004.

Under the Discrimination Act 1991, discrimination is unlawful on grounds that include the following*:

  • Disability
  • Race, including national and ethnic origin
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Status as a parent or carer
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Relationship status
  • Religious conviction
  • Sexuality

* This is not a complete list of grounds. See our Information on the Discrimination Act for a complete list.

In the following areas:

  • Employment
  • Goods, services and facilities
  • Education
  • Accommodation
  • Club membership
  • Access to premises
  • Access or membership of professional or trade organisations.

The Act also makes unlawful:

  • Aiding and abetting discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Victimisation because of making or supporting a discrimination complaint
  • Advertising an intention to discriminate
  • Vilification on the grounds of race, sexuality, gender identity or HIV/AIDS

Does the ACT Discrimination Act 1991 cover Commonwealth Agencies?

No. To make a complaint against a Commonwealth Department or agency and for further information about federal laws contact the Australian Human Rights Commission in Sydney on 1300 656 419 or www.humanrights.gov.au

Contact Information:

Human Rights Commission

See our Contact Us page.

Carers ACT

Ground Floor, Churches Centre,

54 Benjamin Way, Belconnen ACT 2617

Telephone 6296 9900

Fax: 6296 9999

Email: carers@carersact.asn.au 

Internet: www.carersact.asn.au

Carers ACT is a community organisation that provides information, respite, counselling, education, advocacy and support to people who have taken on caring responsibilities.