Why it matters
Juggling work and caring responsibilities can be challenging and extremely stressful, with many carers unable to sustain their careers. This can lead to financial hardship and move carers and their families onto a dependence on benefits.
Without support and understanding at work, carers can suffer from high levels of stress and exhaustion. The effects of this can be damaging both in the workplace and at home.
Caring for a sick or disabled person is different from caring for children. It can happen overnight, without any or much warning; it can be hard to plan and cope with emotionally, and can involve a series of milestones which result in the need for varying intensities and levels of caring.
A number of pieces of legislation currently give carers some basic statutory rights at work. Whilst many employers go beyond this provision, there is however often very limited awareness, amongst both employers and employees of the minimum legal rights which apply to carers in employment.
The Work and Families Act 2006: gives carers the right to request flexible working. Since 2007, this legislation has applied to carers, and to parents of children under the age of 17, or 18 if the child is disabled. From the end of June 2014 this right was extended to all employees.
To be eligible, employees must have been employed for at least 26 weeks, and can apply for a change in their terms and conditions only once per year (or if circumstances suddenly alter). Employers can refuse this request, but only on the grounds of a good business case, for reasons specified in the legislation. Employees have a further chance to appeal against this decision.
All employees also have the right to take time off for emergencies to respond to unexpected situations involving a dependant (someone they look after). This is regardless of how long they have worked for their employer.
Time off is unpaid, but at the discretion of the employer, can be, and often is, paid. Employees should inform their employer/line manager as soon as possible following the emergency.
A dependant includes a husband, wife or partner, child or parent, or someone living with the employee as part of their family. It can also include others who rely on the employee for help in an emergency.
Leave might be taken in situations including:
- A disruption or breakdown in care arrangements (eg a nurse or care worker fails to arrive)
- When a dependant becomes ill, has been assaulted or involved in an accident (this can include more than just a physical injury)
- To make arrangements for the longer-term care of a dependant who is ill or injured (but not to provide long term care themselves)
- The death of a dependant
Employees who have worked for their employer for at least 12 months (continuous service) are entitled to Parental Leave if they are responsible for a child under the age of 5, or under 18 if the child receives Disability Living Allowance. This provides:
- 13 weeks (unpaid) parental leave per child to look after their child, or
- 18 weeks (unpaid) parental leave per child to look after their disabled child.
Leave can be taken in blocks of 1 week up to a maximum of 4 weeks leave in a year (for each child); or in one day, or multiples of a day if the leave is to care for a disabled child. Again, employers may have developed entitlement within their organisation to extend beyond this minimum requirement.
For parents of a child in receipt of Disability Living Allowance, leave may be taken any time up to the child’s 18th birthday.
The Equality Act 2010 protects people against direct discrimination or harassment due to their caring responsibilities. Because carers are ‘associated’ with someone who is protected by the law because of their age or disability, they are also thereby protected by the Equality Act.
Employers cannot therefore discriminate against carers or subject them to harassment. This would include:
- not offering someone a job because of their caring responsibilities
- not offering someone a promotion because of their caring responsibilities