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Support for carers at work

With all the stress that comes with being a carer, a little support from your employer goes a long way to making life easier. There are different ways your employer can support you. Knowing how an employer can help may make it easier for you to ask for support.

You don't have to tell your employer that you're a carer; this is entirely up to you. However, as an employee, you will have some statutory rights that your employer has to offer, and they may go further than this and offer carers extra support. You can find out about the support available by speaking to your line manager, the personnel department, your welfare officer or occupational health adviser, or your union or staff representative.

Think about talking to someone you feel close to at work. You spend a lot of time with your colleagues each week and they may be a great source of support. You may find other carers among your workmates, and be a support to each other. You could ask your employer about setting up a support group, so you can make it easier to balance caring and work.

Sometimes it is the simplest things that can make a difference. For instance, letting carers take a longer lunch break so they have time to check on the person they care for, can do a lot to bring their stress levels down. Here are a few ways in which employers may offer support.

Flexible working hours

Giving carers some flexibility in their working hours can be a great help. If you are late in because things have not gone smoothly at home, it is good to know that you will not have to apologise or explain yourself.

Access to a telephone

Being able to use a phone at work can give both you and the person you care for, a great sense of reassurance. It can also mean that if there is a problem you can take steps to sort it out quickly.

Car parking space near to work

Knowing that you will not have to hunt for a car parking space when you arrive for work can mean you have one less thing to worry about. A car parking space near work can also cut your journey time to and from work.

Working from home

Being able to work from home either on a regular basis, or occasionally, when you most need to, can be a real benefit. You can be at home with the person you are looking after and still be able to get a day’s work done. This can give you a welcome break from the stress of commuting.

Unpaid and paid leave

As well as your statutory rights to take time off in an emergency, your employer may allow you extra time off, either unpaid or paid. This can help when you need to look after the person in your care for a longer period, e.g. when they come out of hospital. And you will not have to worry about using up all your holiday.

Career breaks

If working and caring become too difficult and you are thinking about giving up work, ask about a career break (or sabbatical). Some employers do offer paid or unpaid career breaks, so it is worth checking. It would mean that you could concentrate on your caring role for a while, knowing that you have your job to go back to. If you are on an unpaid career break, you may also be entitled to claim Carer’s Allowance.

Your rights to parental leave

If you have worked for at least one year, continuously, for the same employer, and have a child or children, you may be entitled to parental leave. Your child’s age is the vital factor. If you have a child aged under five, or a disabled child under 18, you are entitled to:

  • a total of 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 allowance.

You have to take this leave before your child is five, or before they are 18 if they are disabled. If your child is adopted, the rules are slightly different. You have to take parental leave from within five years from the date your child was placed with you, or before their 18th birthday, whichever comes first. Foster parents do not qualify for parental leave.

What can I use parental leave for?

The idea behind parental leave is to let you take unpaid leave from work to look after your child or to sort out arrangements for childcare. You could use parental leave to spend more time with your child when they are young, to be with them if they have to go into hospital, to look at new schools, or to be there while they get used to a new childminder. You can also use parental leave to spend more time together as a family, e.g. taking your child to stay with his or her grandparents.

How long can I take at once?

You can take parental leave by the day, if you're using it to care for a disabled child, or in blocks of a week. In both cases, the most leave you can take is four weeks a year. And you cannot ‘give’ some of your entitlement to you husband, wife or partner. You both have an entitlement to 13 weeks unpaid leave per child (or 18 weeks for a disabled child).

Some employers have workforce agreements that allow their employees to take more than four weeks off a year, so check your contract. It is always worth checking your staff handbook or contract of employment as some employers are more generous with parental leave.

You must give your employer at least 21 days’ notice of when you want to take parental leave. Employers can postpone your parental leave if you have asked to be away at a time that is difficult for them. For example, it could be during their busy season, or a lot of other employees have already asked to take parental leave at the same time.

If your employer is postponing your leave, they have to tell you in writing, within seven days of you asking them. They also have to give you that leave within the next six months. Your employer cannot postpone your leave if you have asked for it to start straight after your child’s birth, or as soon as an adopted child comes to live with you.

What if my request is turned down?

If you have the right to take parental leave and your employer refuses to let you have it, there are steps you can take. First, talk to your employer or to the human resource department about why they have turned down your request.

If your employers will not change their decision, you could make a complaint through their internal grievance procedure. If you have a trade union representative, or someone similar, it is a good idea to ask them for help. If that does not work, you have the right to make a complaint to an employment tribunal.

You must make your application to the employment tribunal within three months and that is a strict time limit. If you are going through the grievance procedure the time limit can sometimes be extended but to be on the safe side make sure you keep to the three-months time limit. It can sometimes be difficult to work out when the three-months limit starts. If you're not sure, you should get legal advice.

You can get help and advice on problems at work from ACAS. Their helpline, 08457 474747, is open from 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday.

Discrimination and employment

It's against the law to discriminate against people at work on the grounds of:

  • age,
  • race,
  • gender,
  • disability,
  • sexual orientation, or
  • religion or belief.

You'll be protected from discrimination at work whether you work full- or part-time, whether you're in permanent or temporary work or you're a freelance worker.

Discrimination can take place in various ways when you're employed. It can include any of the following:

  • the way in which the job is advertised or the way in which you're recruited,
  • the amount of pay or other benefits you receive,
  • other terms and conditions at work,
  • the way in which your appraisals take place,
  • the training available to you,
  • decisions made to dismiss you from work or make you redundant, or
  • the conditions concerning your retirement from work.

Carers and protection from discrimination at work

The law that protects disabled people against discrimination also applies to their carers. This follows a legal case about carer Sharon Coleman who claimed that she was discriminated against because she had a disabled son and was treated less favourably than employees whose children were not disabled.

In some cases carers who've been refused the right to work flexibly may be able to argue that they're being discriminated against. If you're in this situation you should get further advice as quickly as possible.

What to do if you experience discrimination at work

As a first step you should discuss the matter with your manager or human resources (HR) officer to see if your complaint can be resolved informally.

If that isn't successful you should put your grievance in writing and arrange a meeting with your employer.

If you aren't satisfied with the decision about your grievance you can then ask to appeal.

At this stage, or at any stage of your complaint, you can use a mediation service such as ACAS or ask your employer to arrange mediation. ACAS has a pre-application conciliation service that tries to resolve matters without the need for a tribunal hearing.

If you decide to go to tribunal, in most cases you must apply to the tribunal within three months of the date the act of discrimination occurred. If you're unsure how this time limit applies to you, you should get legal advice.

Information you need to give to the tribunal

If you're applying to a tribunal because of discrimination you'll need to describe the incidents that you believe amounted to discrimination, the dates of those incidents and the people involved. You should also describe how you've been affected by these events.

It may be worth keeping a written record so that you have this information available if needed.

Legal advice
In many cases it's sensible to get specialist legal advice, particularly if you anticipate having to make an application to the tribunal. If you're a member of a union or professional association they may be able to advise you or put you in touch with a specialist adviser. Alternatively, you could find a Citizens Advice Bureau, legal advice service or private firm of solicitors that specialises in employment law.

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Comments are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Rob Finch said on 22 December 2009

Hi Barryman,

It sounds complicated so it's best if you call our helpline 0808 802 0202 for advice or email carersdirect@nhschoices.nhs.uk

Good luck.

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barryman said on 18 December 2009

hi i have a son with cf.u said i have2 give 21days 2 tell my emplymie about when i have2 have time of.its not that easy as i have 2 girls age 8+6.i knew on the tuesday thay my son of 18mts had2 stay in hospial 4 2weeks.on wednesday he was in there 4 2weeks.so i had 2 drop my hrs 2 3hrs aday cos of this as i got2 take them2school then go2work at 9.30am which i nomily start at 7am then leave at 2.30pm 2get them from school,then go in2 see my son.i work in llandough and my son is in the uhw(heath)and now on friday my girls finish from school and i have2 take 3days off work as he is due home on wednesday.in these 3days ill be gettin unpaid.is there n e help i can get 2 get my 15hrs a week pay whice i lost and the 3days that ill be off work. p brown

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Last reviewed: 05/12/2011

Next review due: 05/12/2013

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