Employee Rights As A Carer

Consider your workforce, how many employees would you estimate act as a carer to their dependent(s)? Do you know what employee rights as a carer are?

Juggling caring responsibilities and work can be very stressful. So, what are employee rights as a carer and how can employers recognise those who need help and act with compassion? As an employer, it’s important to be able to recognise and support employees who may be in this situation. But it’s not always easy to identify those who are carrying the caring burden.

1 in 7 people are juggling work and care (Carers UK)

This staggering figure means there is likely to be someone in your business who may have some caring responsibilities. Known as the “sandwich generation”, this is often people in their fifties who have children but who are also caring for elderly parents or other relatives. Quite often, this generation has a wealth of experience, knowledge, and a wide skill set, all of which benefit the employer.

You may have an employee who looks after a vulnerable younger adult, such as someone with a disability or who’s seriously ill. So, how can you spot carers in the workplace?

5 million working carers in the UK (Carers UK)

Regular one-to-ones and a PDP (personal development plan) process will help you identify carers. By building trusted relationships between team leaders and team members, you can encourage open discussion about any issues. If someone starts to struggle with their daily tasks, this is a sign that all is not well. Employees may appear distracted, tired, stressed or unable to carry out their usual duties. Line managers should use an empathetic approach.

Employers for Carers is a forum dedicated to supporting employers with carers in the workplace. Many large organisations have joined this group “to build a positive and inclusive workplace for staff who are, or will become, carers”. There is guidance and support available to help employers navigate this difficult area, but also to encourage the “talents that carers can bring to the workforce”. But from a HR perspective, what are employee rights as a carer?

Rights for employees who are carers

There are two different rights for employees – statutory and contractual:

  • Statutory rights – the law gives everyone this type of right subject to any qualifying criteria.
  • Contractual rights – these are the rights contained within the contract of employment.
Keep an eye out…

The Government intends to provide a statutory right for all unpaid carers to one week’s unpaid leave per year. It is expected that it can be taken in half or single days or as the entire week. There will be no length of service qualifying criteria. Notice will have to be provided and ‘dependents’ are expected to be the same as they are now. The entitlement depends on the long-term care requirements of the individual to be cared for.

Statutory employee rights as a carer

Statutory rights for carers vary depending on the situation:

  • Working parents of a child (under 18)  – have the right to request unpaid parental leave subject to having secured one year’s service. This type of leave is more flexible if an employee’s child has a disability and can be taken in single days rather than the minimum period of one week.
  • Employees who are looking after a vulnerable adult (relative or lives at the same address) – also have a right to ask for flexible working after 26 weeks employment. As an employer, you’ll need to know how to manage this correctly and if you are required to accommodate the request or not, we can assist with this.
  • Emergencies – carers who need to take time off work due to an emergency relating to a dependant have the right to unpaid leave.

Contractual rights for employees who are carers

As an employer, you may wish to offer enhanced rights for employees who are also a carer. It’s worth analysing your HR data to determine the return on investment. Additionally, there’s the benefit of being an employer of choice, employees who feel supported will remain with the company longer and absences will be kept to a minimum.

Remember that any enhanced payments, benefits or paid time off needs to be detailed in your employment documents and the principal statement for new employees.

If your current HR policies do not include any provision for employees who are carers, then it’s worthwhile carrying out a review. We have included some findings in the next section, which could help to inform your HR policy on carers in the workplace, for example, flexible working or paid care leave.

Employers approach to working carers

With the current cost-of-living crisis, the pressure on working carers is likely to worsen. As personal funds dwindle, families may no longer be able to afford external care services. As a result, more working family members could find themselves becoming carers.

Leading care organisations, such as Carers UK, are urging employers to support employees with caring responsibilities. This may require putting certain measures in place that both recognise and adapt the working environment to be able to provide better support for carers.

Below are the top three interventions surveyed working carers believed helpful, from research by Carers UK funded by Centrica plc:

  • 88% – flexible working
  • 89% – additional paid care leave; 5 to 10 days was suggested.
  • 89% – supportive line manager

Benefits to employers

Interestingly, Centrica’s partnership with Carers UK has resulted in productivity gains. As a founding member of the Employers for Carers forum, they began to recognise the value of supporting carers in the workplace. Centrica plc introduced a range of policies, which included 1 month’s paid matched care leave per year (subject to contract). They also gave employees access to a carers network with over a thousand members. This was the result:

Centrica has saved around £1.8 million per annum through the application of its carer policies in terms of preventing unplanned absences and presenteeism and a further £1.3 million per annum in retention savings.”

(‘Juggling work and unpaid care report’ Carers UK)

As an employer, could you be doing more to support employees with caring responsibilities?

Further considerations include a more informal approach to flexible working.  A formal request to work flexibly can only happen once in a 12-month period and can take up to 3 months, this may not benefit an employee/carer. Implications could include unplanned time off which impact the business and other employees.

Employers who proactively support employees who are carers could benefit as an organisation in the long run. It’s clear that this issue isn’t going away.

Do you need HR advice when considering employee rights as a carer?

If you need regular or ad hoc HR advice on employee rights or another matter, we can help. We can update your HR policies and procedures and your employee documents. Jude Read-HR is your dedicated HR partner, also providing retained support and consultancy for large or complex projects.

Please get in touch if you need HR advice relating to employee rights or another matter. We will be happy to talk through your options using our HR expertise.

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