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Carer’s Rights Day 2021

The charity Carers UK estimates that 1 in 8 adults (around 6.5 million people) in the UK care for a dependant who is elderly, ill or disabled. Of this group, they estimate around 5 million carers juggle their caring responsibilities with work. This can place a strain on the carer’s productivity and attendance at work, as well as on their wellbeing. According to the group Employers for Carers, 1 in 6 carers have to give up work or reduce their hours in order to meet their caring responsibilities.

This Carer’s Rights Day (25 November), we take a look at what rights carers have in the workplace and what employers can do to help.

Carer’s Leave (not yet in force)

Although it is not yet clear when it will be introduced in law, in September 2021 the government announced that all employees will have a statutory right to unpaid carer’s leave for a period of up to one week (five working days) from their first day of employment.

In order to be eligible, the carer must:

  • Be an employee;
  • Be caring for a dependant, namely a spouse/partner/civil partner, child, person who lives in the same household (otherwise than by reason of being their employee, lodger, boarder or tenant), or a person who reasonably relies on them for care;
  • Be caring for someone with a long-term care need;
  • Give notice in advance of the required time off, which is double the length of the leave required plus one day e.g. if they require three days’ leave, they must give notice of seven days.

The leave can be taken to provide personal or practical support, make arrangements or to help with official or financial matters. It can be taken flexibly in either individual days or as a block. The leave can be self-certified, without providing any evidence.

If the carer meets the above criteria, the employer cannot outright deny their request, although it may delay the start date if it would unruly disrupt the operation of the business.

Employees would also have the right not to suffer detriment in relation to carer’s leave. If an employee is dismissed in relation to their right to take carer’s leave, the dismissal will be automatically unfair.

Employment Rights Today

Carers also have the following rights and protections at work:

  • The right to not be unfairly discriminated against. Although being a carer is not a protected characteristic, a carer must not be discriminated against as a person ‘associated’ with an elderly or disabled person because of their age or disability. For example, it would be associative discrimination if an employee is disciplined for taking time off to care for their disabled mother and other workers who have had similar time off have not been disciplined; or if an employee is dismissed because of concerns that their caring responsibilities will distract them from their work;
  • The right to request flexible working. This applies to carers who have been in their current jobs for 26 weeks or more and who haven’t already made a request in the last 12 months. The request should be in writing and set out details of the flexible work required e.g. compressed hours or flexi-time. Employers must have a sound business reason for rejecting any such request.

What can employers do to support carers?

Ethical employers should recognise the needs of carers and help to create a working environment where they feel valued and supported. The majority of carers are between 45 – 64 years old, so meeting a carer’s needs may also assist in attracting and retaining top talent and the most experienced members of staff.

Our best advice for employers is to:

  • Introduce a carers policy or review existing policies to ensure they are ‘carer friendly’. This could include clearly setting out details of flexible working and leave options, career breaks, availability of resources to assist carers such as Employee Assistance Programmes and carer support networks;
  • Develop, support and manage an internal network for staff members who are carers. Staff networks can help put carers in contact with each other, provide crucial information and support and act as a voice to raise awareness of carers needs in the workplace;
  • Consider paid/unpaid leave to cover intensive periods of care, as an alternative to a carer using up all of their holiday, being forced to take sick leave, or having to give up work;
  • Maintain an open and supportive culture – there is no obligation for an employee to share that they are a carer, but if they feel comfortable to do so it may assist you to find working arrangements that work for both you and them.

Covid 19

A report by Carers Week in 2020 estimated that an additional 4.5 million people took on caring responsibilities during the pandemic and the reduction of social services fuelled an ever greater need for unpaid care. Although life is slowly returning back to ‘normal’, some carers may feel anxious about returning to the office, particularly if they are caring for someone who is vulnerable or in an at-risk category. It is important that employers speak to staff members who are carers about their needs and consider implementing flexible working options such as working from home or staggered start times to avoid the staff member having to commute during rush-hour.

We also note that unpaid carers are currently eligible for Covid-19 booster vaccines, although these are not mandatory. In contrast, those working in care homes are required to have the jab by law – for more information about this and the rights of workers in care homes please read our FAQs.

If you are an employer wanting advice or an individual wanting more information about your rights in respect of this area call 0808 252 5231 to speak to one of our Employment Law specialists to find out how we can help.