Balancing caring with work and study- A Guide for Carers

Knowing about and using your rights at work

Your caring responsibilities can make it harder to commit to work. As a carer, there are employment laws that protect your rights at work and may make it easier to stay in work.

Your right to negotiating employment agreements

If you’re an employee, you must have an employment agreement. This agreement can be an individual or collective (involving a union) agreement and you must be given a written copy. There are minimum terms that every agreement must contain but you have the right to negotiate additional terms. To help with your employment contract, the Employment New Zealand website has an online tool called the Employment Agreement Builder. Visit and search Employment Agreement.

The online tool includes draft clauses about hours and days of work, which can be changed to fit around your caring situation and the needs of your employer.

Your right to request flexible working arrangements

If you’re an employee, you have the right to request flexible working arrangements from your first day at work. You can request flexible working for any purpose or reason, caring being one. Employers have a legal duty to consider any requests.

Examples of flexible working arrangements include:

  • agreeing on core hours and choosing when your working day starts and finishes
  • working part-time/reduced hours
  • weekday/weekend swaps – you swap working on a weekday for working on the weekend
  • weeks on/weeks off – you work one of several weeks and take one or several weeks off
  • term-time working – working during the school terms and taking paid/unpaid time off during school holidays
  • working from home or another location outside the workplace.

How to make a request

Make a time to talk to your employer to work through your request for flexible work and any questions or concerns your employer may have.

You need to make your request in writing and include information to help your employer understand your needs. Visit the Flexible working arrangements page on the Employment New Zealand website to find out more on how to make a request. You can also download a template form.

Can my employer say no?

Employers are required to consider and respond to requests within one month. They can say no to your request with their reasons explained but only on recognised business grounds or non-accommodation grounds set out in the Employment Relations Act. Talk to your employer about your concerns if you think they haven’t dealt with your request appropriately. You can get free employment information by calling the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) on 0800 20 90 20 or visiting the Flexible working arrangements page on the Employment New Zealand website.

Using your sick leave for someone you care for

If you’re employed, you can use your own sick leave to care for your partner, a dependant (your child or elderly parent for example), or someone close to who you provide care for if they’re sick or injured and need care. To find out more about sick leave, download the Leave and holidays guide PDF from the Employment New Zealand website.

Who to talk to about taking sick leave

Make a time to talk to your employer or manager about your caring situation. They should be aware that sometimes you may need to take time away from work to attend medical appointments, support someone who is unwell or cope with unexpected situations.

It might also be helpful for colleagues to know that you have a caring role, so they can help at difficult times.

Balancing caring with study

Balancing your caring with study can be hard. To help manage caring whilst studying, it may be helpful to talk with your school counsellor, teacher, lecturer or tutor about your caring responsibilities. Your school or university probably will not know that you’re caring for someone, so if you let a staff member you trust know, they and the institution where you study may be able to support you.

For tertiary study, the type of support you may get might be relaxed attendance requirements, e-learning opportunities such as recorded lectures or access to lecture slides, note-taking services and flexible deadlines for assignments.

Starting study

Fees-Free Tertiary Education and Training

If you are planning to start tertiary study or training for the first time you may be eligible for fees-free.

Fees-free gives eligible learners the equivalent of one year’s full-time study (up to a certain amount) fees-free or, if you train or do an apprenticeship through an industry training organisation, the first two years of your training programme fees-free (up to a certain amount).

Visit to check if you are eligible and for more information about fees-free.


StudyLink is a service that helps students with the costs of study, including help with paying:

  • compulsory fees
  • course-related costs (e.g. books, laptop etc)
  • day-to-day living costs
  • other costs (e.g. disability or childcare).

To find out more and apply online:

Moving into work

Careers New Zealand

The government website provides information and resources that help all New Zealanders. This includes free tools and information for:

  • young people (and their parents, families, whānau and mentors) who may be at school, about to leave school, in tertiary training or having a gap year, or who have left school early and are unsure about their career plans
  • jobseekers, including people who are currently out of work, in between work, actively looking for a job or returning to work, for example, after raising a family or returning from overseas
  • people wanting to improve their skills or change their career path.

To find out more:

Work and Income

Work and Income may be able help you plan and move into paid work or training.

If you want help with your job search, they will work with you to identify your needs, match you to appropriate vacancies, and support you with your search for work and once you’re in work.

If you qualify, they may also be able to help you with some of the costs of looking for work and attending interviews.

To find out more:

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