What rights do Carer’s have at work?
Over the last few years, the government have been talking about introducing statutory time off for employees who having caring responsibilities at home. Consultations were held back in 2020, where the proposal was generally supported by a variety of respondents, as the benefits of a supported workforce for both carers and employers were recognised.
These consultations led to an announcement in September 2021 that the government will introduce a new statutory right of up to one week of unpaid carer’s leave in England, Wales and Scotland “when Parliamentary time allows”. Nothing more has been said on this since, other than that the timescales are ’uncertain’. This is worth keeping an eye out for, but, in the meantime, employers should be aware of the rights that can be exercised by carers currently.
At the moment, there are no specific employment rights for carers in the UK. However, there are certain general statutory rights which carers can utilise. These are as follows:
• Time off for dependants: all employees have the right to take reasonable unpaid time off to deal with emergencies involving a dependant. This covers instances where it is necessary to assist a dependent who has fallen ill, been injured, or is giving birth or dying, or where there has been the unexpected closure of a school or childcare facility. This isn’t intended to be used for the employee providing longer term care themselves and wouldn’t generally be for more than a day or two at a time.
• Request flexible working: after 26 weeks of employment, employees can make a request for flexible working. This could involve a change to their working pattern, hours, or location, to incorporate home working, part-time working, compressed hours or job sharing for example. Whilst this can be refused, the employer needs to be able to show a legitimate business ground for the refusal.
• Parental leave: employees with at least one year’s continuous service can take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave per child before the child’s eighteenth birthday, for the purpose of caring for the child. This can be capped at 4 weeks to be taken per year.
There are certain protections which employers should also be aware of in relation to any employees with caring responsibilities. This includes the right not to be subjected to a detriment for taking time off for dependants, and the right not to be subjected to ‘associative discrimination’, which is where a person is treated less favourably because they are associated with a protected characteristic.
For example, if one employee is granted time off for a three week unpaid sabbatical, but then another employee is refused a similar amount of time off when they request it to care for their disabled spouse, this could amount to direct disability discrimination against the employee by association with the disabled person. The employer would need to show that the reason for the refusal was not related to the disability.
The above sets out the minimum rights that carer’s can currently rely on at work. However, in the knowledge that further rights are set to be legislated on in the future, and in order to maintain positive employee relations, employers may consider implementing the right to ‘carers leave’ earlier, or putting together their own policy setting out what they can offer for employees’ with caring responsibilities. Even if the offer just covers the statutory rights for now, having it set out clearly and showing that management are willing to speak about it and provide support can make a difference, both for the staff and the business.
Author: Anna Nelson, Employment Law Advisor at Howarths