Carers’ employment rights – is your business doing enough?

Carers' employment rightsCarers’ employment rights are acknowledged by most employers but are not always upheld in practice.

A quarter of working, non-professional carers responding to a survey by Carers UK in 2013 (State of Caring Survey) said that although their employer was sympathetic, they did not offer support.

Employers who responded to an Employers for Carers Business Benefits survey in 2012 showed that just over half of them dealt with carer support on a case-by-case basis. A flexible approach might be the most sensible one for your business, but is it enough to avoid problems and retain valuable staff?

There are currently 315,000 working age carers who have left work and remain out of employment according to research by the London School of Economics*. Research has also shown that a significant number of out-of-work people who are carers say they have difficulty returning to the workplace. The Government is keen to ensure that carers are given support to stay in work or return to work, if they wish to do so. Are you doing enough for your employees?

Carers’ employment rights in the workplace

Carers have the following statutory employment rights:

#1. Right to unpaid leave

An employee is entitled under the Employment Rights Act 1996 to time off during working hours:
(a) to provide assistance if a dependant is ill,injured or assaulted or gives birth,
(b) to make arrangements for the care of a dependant who is ill or injured,
(c) in relation to the death of a dependant,
(d) due to an unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant,
(e) to deal with an incident involving a child of the employee that occurs whilst the child is attending an educational establishment.

#2. Right to request flexible working

The Work and Families Act 2006 extended the right to request flexible working arrangements to carers. Previously it only applied to parents with young children.
Regulations that cover flexible working arrangements say if the employee submits a carefully prepared application for flexible working, the employer must follow a set procedure to ensure the request is properly considered. The employer can refuse permission provided that there is a recognised business ground for the refusal.

Are employers guilty of discrimination if they refuse flexible working?

If an employer refuses flexible working to an employee or makes it very difficult to work flexibly that could be a form of discrimination by association. If you’re going to refuse consent to a flexible working request on the basis of a recognised business ground it’s important to consider your business policies. If you haven’t got a policy to back up a refusal you might be in difficulty defending a discrimination claim.

The Equality Act 2010 gives protection to people with protected characteristics such as a disability. The Act also confirms the principle that a person can be the victim of discrimination even though they don’t have a protected characteristic. Someone associated with a person who has protected characteristics could allege discrimination. This means that it’s possible for a carer who has been unreasonably refused flexible working to claim discrimination under The Equality Act because they care for someone who has a protected characteristic.

What could employers do to support carers in the workplace?

These are some of the things employers could be doing to support carers’ employment rights:

  • Reviewing their employment policies to ensure they are fit for purpose
  • Examining what further measures they can implement to encourage support for staff who are juggling the dual roles of worker and carer
  • Checking the ACAS Code of Practice on Flexible Working published in 2014

Avoid losing valuable skills from the workforce

The peak age for caring for a relative is said to be between 45 – 65 years. That coincides with the age group of employees who are likely to be the most skilled and experienced in the workforce. Increasing support in the workplace for carers can have a very positive effect on employees’ performance and morale. It should be considered by employers as an essential part of their HR strategy.

Setting Up A Carers’ Network In The Workplace
Increasing numbers of employers are taking seriously the need to offer better to support to workers. Setting up a Carers’ Network within an organisation is a useful way to encourage a supportive environment. It may also help to ensure your organisation complies with carers’ employment rights.

We can help you set up an effective workplace network for carers. We provide training and information in-house for employers and employees for improving support for working carers.
Book a course or request a FREE information pack here – fill in the form below.

*Pickard, L.,
Public expenditure costs of carers leaving employment
(2012) LSE Health & Social Care, London School of Economics and Political Science

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