Combining work and a caring role can be a challenge, and it may feel as if you are juggling two jobs. You may even be considering giving up work so that you can continue to care.
But we know work can be important for your health and well-being, maintaining a standard of living and as a way of maintaining social contact (and combating isolation). It is therefore important you know your rights and the options available to you when making decisions about caring and paid employment.
There are things you can do to cope with the pressures of work and care. As a working carer you are likely to need a range of support in the workplace, and often different levels of support at different times – from access to a telephone to check on the person you care for, to taking leave to help out when someone is being discharged from hospital.
Right to Request Flexible Working
Most working carers have the legal right to request a flexible working pattern from their employer to help them to balance their work and caring responsibilities. As a carer you have this right if:
- you are an employee; and
- you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks; and
- you are a parent with a child under 17 or a disabled child under 18 or you care for an adult (aged 18 or over) who lives at the same address as you. If the person you care for does not live with you then they must be a relative.
Flexible working arrangements can make it easier for you to carry on working at the same time as caring for your relative or dependant. These arrangements could include:
- flexible starting and finishing times
- compressed working hours (e.g. working a full week over a 4 day working period)
- working from home
- job-sharing, term-time or part-time working
- flexible holidays to fit in with alternative care arrangements.
Only one request can be made per year. Your employer can refuse a request, but must give good reasons for doing so. In this case, an employee can appeal the decision.
For more information on your rights to request flexible working, download the Carers UK factsheet.
Right to Time Off in an Emergency
If you are a carer in paid employment you have the right to take a “reasonable” amount of time off work to look after a dependant in an emergency. A dependant could be a mother, father, son, daughter, spouse or civil partner, or anyone who lives with you, other than a tenant, lodger or boarder.
Possible emergencies can include:
- a disruption or breakdown in care arrangements
- the person you care for becoming ill or having an accident
- to deal with an incident involving a child during school hours
- to make longer-term care arrangements for a dependant who is ill or injured
- to deal with the death of a dependant.
This right applies from the first day of your employment. You do not need to have been in the job for a specific length of time before you can take time off in an emergency. However, the law does not define how much time off a person can take – it depends on the circumstances. To use this time off, you must inform your employer as soon as possible after the emergency has happened. Emergency leave is usually unpaid unless your employer chooses to pay you.
Apart from this legal entitlement, your employer may have a policy or be open to discussing leave arrangements. Some options could be:
- compassionate leave
- borrowing holidays from next year
- career breaks (usually unpaid).
Right to Parental Leave
If you have worked for your employer for at least one year and are responsible for a child you may be entitled to parental leave.
If you have a child aged under 5, or a disabled child aged under 18, you are entitled to:
- 13 weeks unpaid leave per child, to look after them; or
- 18 weeks unpaid leave per child if you are looking after a disabled child who is receiving Disability Living Allowance.
You can usually take a maximum of four weeks parental leave in a year (unless you have a collective agreement which says you can take more than this). If your child is disabled you can take the leave as a day or multiples of a day, otherwise you must take the leave in weekly blocks (unless you have a collective agreement which says otherwise). Parental leave is usually unpaid, but employers can choose to offer paid leave – check your employer’s policies.
Parental leave must be taken before your child is 5 (or 18 if they are disabled). If your child is adopted, the rules are slightly different. Foster parents do not qualify for parental leave.
Protection from Discrimination
As a carer you are protected from direct discrimination and harassment at work by the Equality Act 2010. The Act also protects carers outside of work, such as when you shop for goods or services, and when you use public transport. This means that employers and providers of goods and services must not treat carers less favourably than those without caring responsibilities. In other words discrimination against an individual because they care for a disabled relative or child is unlawful.
Support for Going Back to Work
Jobcentre Plus may be able to help you find work, including offering courses to help you improve your skills, a work-focussed interview, and helping you find a job via their Universal Jobmatch service.
Information from Brent Carers Centre
Employers for Carers
Employers for Carers is a national voluntary organisation that provides practical advice and support to employers on the benefits of supporting carers in the workplace.
Working Families is a national voluntary organisation that helps working parents and carers and their employers find a better balance between responsibilities at home and work.