There are 5 million working carers in the UK balancing a career with caring for a loved one, and it may help to know more about the support available and your rights as a worker.
5 million people work and care in the UK – 1 in 7 in every workplace. This figure is only increasing, and if you are a working carer it is important to understand your rights as an employee. Carers have a legal right to work in the UK should they choose to, and it is against the law to discriminate against an employee based on their caring responsibilities.
What are my rights?
As an employee, you have the right to request flexible working arrangements from your employer, providing you have 6 months of continuous employment from the time you make a request. As the law allows you to submit a formal request for flexible working only once per year, it is a good idea to talk to your employer as soon as possible.
You are not required to give personal reasons for the request. However, it may improve your chances of having a successful application. The more details you can provide, the stronger your prospects will be.
It is also your statutory right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time away from work where necessary:
- To see to an emergency or unforeseen matter involving someone who depends on you for care.
- There is no limit to the amount of time you can take off in one period.
- The time off is usually unpaid, however some employers may choose to provide paid absence as a contractual right.
- Be sure to check your HR policy, employee handbook or contract of employment on care leave. ACAS has further useful information on taking time off to care for a dependant.
It’s always a good idea to check what policies and procedures your organisation has in place, and do not be afraid of having a conversation with your employer when life at home is becoming too much of a burden.
Support at Home
If you are struggling to combine caring at home with sustaining a job, you may be eligible for extra support from social services. You can ask to have the needs of the person you care for assessed by a professional, particularly if some time has passed since their previous assessment.
In England, local councils can provide care and support for people who require it and their carer’s by carrying out a ‘carer’s needs assessment’. The service is free and will provide them with enough information to decide what can be done to make life more manageable. In Scotland, this service is called an Adult Carer Support Plan.
Returning to Work
After or during full-time care, you may decide to return to work. If you have had an extended period out of work finding a new job can be overwhelming, you may lack the confidence or the skills required.
Consider acquiring work experience or part-time work to ease yourself back into a routine, and Jobcentre Plus may be able to provide personal support through the government’s Work Preparation Support for Carers’ scheme, helping carers acquire new skills through training and work placement programmes.
If you are considering giving up work or retiring early, weighing up your options is vital. Giving up work may make your caring responsibilities and home-life more manageable, but it is important to consider the implications this will have on your financial situation, your future pension entitlement and quality of life.
If you are out of work for an extended period of time, it can be different to get back into a career or pick up where you left off, and you may find yourself missing the social aspect of work. However, should you decide to leave employment or reduce your hours, you may be eligible for a Carer’s Allowance and support with your pension.
Advice for Employers
In the current economic climate, it has never been more important to retain skilled workers rather than recruiting and retraining new staff. More employers are recognising that offering flexible working hours can improve morale and increase productivity.
As an employer it is vital to have appropriate policies and practices in the workplace that take into consideration the needs of full and part-time carers. Free webinars and training are available to offer to your staff and ensure you provide a comfortable environment for all your staff.