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Working when you are caring

Carers can have a vast range of different experiences with the world of work. You may be currently working but struggling to manage the difficult balance between being a carer and having a job. You may be trying to get back into work after a period away to look after a friend or relative. You may be thinking about giving up work to focus on your caring responsibilities more. Or you may not be able, want or need to work alongside being a carer.

In each of these cases, below we have advice to support you in your particular circumstances, and to make sure you have access to everything you are entitled to.

Working whilst being a carer

Although looking after someone else can be very demanding, some people are able to balance their caring responsibilities with undertaking paid external work as well. In fact, there are as many as five million carers in the UK who also work alongside looking after a friend or family member.

Sometimes this is out of choice – perhaps you really enjoy your job, you are keen to progress your career, or you just want some time away from being a carer. Sometimes it is out of necessity – maybe you need the additional income from paid work. Either way, it is always a bit of a balancing act. But there is support available to help you do both well.

It can help if your employer is fully aware of your caring responsibilities. This will give them a chance to be a bit more understanding and sympathetic if something comes up with the person you care for that might impact on your work.

So, if you feel comfortable doing so, why not speak to somebody you trust about being a carer? This could be your line manager, someone who works in Human Resources or your trade union representative, if you are a member of one.

It can also help to talk to trusted colleagues about your role, particularly if you know any that are also carers. Not only can it help to know other people in the same situation, but you may even consider approaching your employer together about introducing additional support for people in your position.

To give yourself more flexibility, you should also try to make full use of your existing contractual and legal employment rights. Some people can feel uncomfortable requesting all the support that is available, but you should feel free to use anything that you are entitled to if you think it might help. After all, the very reason these rights were introduced was to help people just like you, and you deserve to have this support.

Legal rights are those that apply nationwide, and are enshrined in law. Contractual rights are those that your employer has included in their agreement with their employees, and often go above and beyond those that they are legally obliged to provide. For more details about your contractual rights, take a look at your employment contract and Staff Handbook or ask your HR Department about the ways they support staff members who are also carers.

Below are some rights that carers have reported finding helpful when trying to strike a good balance between working and having caring responsibilities.

One way to try and balance your commitments as a carer with those of your job is by requesting what is known as ‘flexible working’. This allows you to change how much, when and where you work, so that your job can fit in better around your caring responsibilities.

For instance, you could request to change how many hours you work and which days these hours fall on. You also could ask to have some flexibility around when you start and finish each day, sometimes known as ‘flexi-time’. Or you could see if your employer would allow you to work from a more convenient location, including from home. It is also quite common to request working what is known as ‘compressed hours’. This is where you fit your work into a shorter number of longer days, for example working a week’s worth of hours over only four days, or a fortnight’s over nine days. Think about the options that would work best for you, whilst still being practical for you to do your job.

As a starting point for accessing this, it is a good idea to have a look at your organisation’s Flexible Working Policy, if they have one. This might be in your Staff Handbook, or can be requested from Human Resources. This policy will contain details of the contractual rights your employer has already agreed to, including the options that are open to you and the process for how to apply.

If your employer doesn’t have their own process, then you may still have some legal rights available to you. If you have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks (around six months), you have the legal right to request flexible working. You don’t need to have a particular reason for the request and you should not receive any negative repercussions at work from it.

Under the statutory process, you must apply for flexible working in writing. You can only do so once every 12 months, whether it is granted or not, so it is worth making sure you put forward as strong a case as you can first time. If you are eligible to apply, it is a good idea to begin the process as soon as possible as your employer is able to take up to three months to consider the application (and possibly even longer if you agree to an extension).

To apply, you need to write either a letter or an email to your employer with your request. Your application should include how exactly you would like your working pattern to be changed, how your employer could adapt to these changes and when you would like this flexible working to begin. Make sure to also include the date you are applying on, mention any previous flexible working applications you might have made and state that you are making a statutory flexible working request. You don’t have to include anything about your personal circumstances if you don’t want to, but it can often help your case if you are able to explain why you want to work flexibly and provide any evidence you have.

The next step is likely to be that your employer will request a meeting with you to discuss it further and see what can be worked out. If you would like to, you can take either a colleague or a representative from your trade union with you. If you do not turn up to two of these meetings in a row without giving a good reason, then they can treat it as though you have withdrawn your request.

Bear in mind that your employer may not grant your request – the law only says that they must give it serious consideration, but they do not have to say yes. If your employer seems a bit reticent, you could consider suggesting a commitment-free trial to see if the new setup works for all of you. If they do end up saying no, it must be due to one or more specific business reasons that are set out in law, and they must explain to you why your request was refused. If they say yes, then they should tell you in writing what you have all agreed to, and change your employment contract to reflect your new situation.

If you have not worked for your current employer for 26 weeks yet, you may still want to talk to them anyway and see whether they are willing to help. Although you don’t have the right for them to consider it officially, they may still grant your request. More and more employers are starting to recognise that it can be worth supporting their staff to have flexible working in order to keep good employees and be somewhere people want to work.

You have a legal right to take time off work if you need to look after a dependant (which includes anybody you care for) in an emergency. For it to count as an emergency, it has to be something you didn’t know was going to happen. So, you could take time off if someone you care for was rushed in to hospital, but not for a scheduled appointment.

You have the right to a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to deal with the emergency. What is counted as ‘reasonable’ is up to your employer’s discretion. You must tell your employer that you are taking emergency leave for your legal rights to be covered, and it is a good idea to let them know about it as soon as possible after the emergency happens. You can take emergency leave as many times as there are emergencies. You should not face any worse treatment at work as a consequence of having to take emergency leave.

Some employers will pay you for this time off, but they do not have a legal obligation to do so. Many will therefore only give you unpaid leave or may expect you to take it from your holiday allowance.

For further advice about dealing with emergencies, take a look at our guide 'Planning for emergencies as a carer'.

The government has recently been reviewing whether they should introduce a legal right to give carers a week of unpaid leave each year. However, no decision has been made on this yet, so currently carers do not have a legal right to leave outside of emergency situations.

However, your employer may provide you with a contractual right to either paid or unpaid leave for you to use for things like taking the person you care for to medical appointments. You could ask your line manager or check your employment contract to see if this is something that your workplace provides.

Even if they don’t officially have this in place for carers, if you are struggling and feel you could benefit from some time off work to support the person you care for, it may be worth approaching them to see whether they could help. This may fall under the category of ‘compassionate leave’, ‘discretionary leave’ or ‘special leave’. It is entirely up to them whether they offer this, how long they will give you, and whether it is paid or unpaid.

If the person you are caring for is your child, then you have the additional option of taking parental leave to look after them. You have a right to this leave if you are legally recognised as the parent of a child under the age of 18 and have worked for your employer for at least one year continuously. Your employer is allowed to request reasonable proof that you are eligible for parental leave, such as asking to see your child’s birth certificate.

You can have up to a total of 18 weeks unpaid leave per child throughout their childhood. This leave must be taken in week-long blocks, unless your child has a disability, when you are able to have it in blocks of a day. In either case, you can usually have no more than four weeks per year and you must give your employer at least 21 days’ notice. This leave must be taken before your child turns 18. If you change employer at any point, then you do not get to reset this. So, if you had already taken 10 weeks with one employer and then change jobs, you still only have eight weeks left to take before your child turns 18.

Your employment contract might give you an additional entitlement on top of these legal rights, so it is worth checking out your own workplace’s policies too.

Alongside the above rights which can help you to balance your caring responsibilities with your job, you also have a more fundamental right: under the Equality Act 2010 you have the right to not be discriminated against at work as a result of caring for someone who is older or has a disability. The law technically covers the person you are caring for but you are protected under it ‘by association’ with them. In this case, the person you care for would be counted as having a disability if they have a ‘physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. Some illnesses and conditions automatically count including cancer, HIV, MS, severe disfigurement and being sight impaired.

As a result of this protection, you have the right to not be harassed and to not be treated less favourably than other people by either your employer or any of your colleagues on the basis that you are a carer. This can protect you from everything from being passed over for a promotion to being bullied at work.

Getting back into work

You may have had some time away from work to provide care for a friend or relative, but now feel ready to find a job again. Maybe your caring role has changed or ended and you now have some more time available.

Starting work again after some time off, particularly if it has been for an extended period, can be quite challenging. Sometimes it can even be difficult to decide what sort of work you might want to do at all, or what job will suit your current skillset.

Some carers may even feel like they have been out of work for so long that they don’t have any skills left to offer. But remember that your caring role has likely given you a lot of transferrable skills which would serve you well in a number of different paid roles. These could include time management, working to a tight budget, being resilient and learning quickly.

If you feel like you do still need some additional training before being able to get a job again, then lots of training providers are able to offer flexible learning options to allow you to fit studying around any caring responsibilities you may still have. You might even be entitled to some financial assistance from grants or bursaries because of your situation.

Before looking for a job, it is also worth checking what benefits you might lose and which ones you would still be entitled to, so you can calculate how much income you will have in the future. If you do go back to work, don’t forget to let all of the different departments dealing with any benefits you are getting know as soon as you can that your circumstances are about to change. For further advice, take a look at our guide 'Checking the benefits you can claim'.

Giving up working when you are a carer

If you are currently working but are thinking about either cutting back on your hours or stopping working altogether, there are a few things to make sure you have considered before you take the plunge.

It is worth looking into what financial support and benefits you are entitled to first to make sure that you would have enough money to live off if you stop working. There are also other financial implications too, for things like your future pension entitlement. Take a look at our guide 'Getting financial support as a carer' for more information.

Alongside this, it is also important to consider the wider impact that giving up work might have for you. This could be positive – you may enjoy having more time for the other elements of your life and find it much less stressful. Or it could be negative – you could feel like you are losing your identity by no longer having paid external work, which can impact your self-esteem and sense of worth.

If you are wanting to give up work because you are finding it hard to manage combining your work with caring, it might be worth speaking to your employer first to see if together you can come to a better arrangement. For instance, you could consider whether requesting flexible working, where you have more control over how much, when and where you work (see above), might be a better solution instead. Or they could let you have a temporary period of unpaid leave, often known as a sabbatical, allowing you to get through a particularly intense period while still having a job to return to.

Not working while being a carer

There are a number of reasons you may not be working while being a carer. You may be retired, or unable to work due to your own ill health or disability. Sometimes your caring responsibilities take up so much time that you simply aren’t able to do both.

If that’s the case, then you may be entitled to benefits and grants to help support you. Take a look at our guide 'Getting financial support as a carer' for further information on the help you could access.

Online Help and Advice

Visit our online support section where we have provided advice and guidance on a range of relevant topics to help you in your caring role.

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