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Carers Week 2024: Managing Employees With Caring Responsibilities

The CIPD estimates that three million UK workers – one in nine employees – are providing some form of care to an older, disabled or seriously ill person, and this number is expected to rise. The number of carers is set to grow from six to nine million in the next 30 years (Carers UK). However, research by the CIPD and Westfield Health found that only 20% of employers know how many carers they actually employ as this can be a responsibility that employees do not disclose.

Caring responsibilities impact heavily on employees, but if not managed properly can also seriously affect employers through increased and often unpredictable absences, reduced productivity and sometimes the loss of valuable employees. Carers often have no choice about the demands placed on them, and unless employers can accommodate these, their only option may be resignation. Allowing them the flexibility they need to cope with demands of their caring responsibiities can increase your talent pool and may pay off hugely in terms of loyalty and commitment.

The legal position

The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 came into force 6 April 2024 and gives eligible employees the right of up to one week unpaid time off.

To be eligible for the leave, the care must be provided to, or arranged for, a dependant with a long-term care need, or for someone who reasonably relies on the employee for care.

A “dependant” is a parent, spouse, civil partner, child, or someone who lives in the same household as the employee, but excluding tenants, lodgers or boarders, or someone who is employed by the employee.

Long term care is when the dependant has:

  • any physical or mental illness or injury that requires or is likely to require care for more than three months.
  • a condition or illness that is considered a disability under with the Equality Act 2010
  • care needs connected with their old age.

The entitlement to a maximum of one week’s unpaid leave is irrespective of the number of dependants and the leave  may be taken as either a continuous block, or individual full or half days within 12 months.

You can read our article The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 to find out more about how to manage this entitlement in line with the new law.

How to manage employees with caring responsibilities:

Even if someone does not qualify for the statutory right to take time off for carer’s leave, supporting everyone in a fair and compassionate way not only builds trust and a culture of support, but contributes to a positive workplace culture and higher engagement.

Everyone at one time or another will experience challenging times with a family member or someone close, it doesn’t just apply to those who meet the statutory entitlement.  Decide therefore if you wish to extend the statutory right to all employees.

Clearly it will depend on the nature of your business, the industry in which you operate and how your workplace is structured.  Should you not be in a position to extend the statutory rights, there are still key steps we would encourage all employers take in handling sensitive conversations with those who have caring responsibilities.

  • Whilst it is not a legal requirement under the Carer’s Leave Act 2023, we would recommend introducing one.  Either as a standalone policy, or if you already consolidate your family friendly rules into one, it can be added into a central policy.  A policy provides clarity on entitlements and how to manage requests for the leave, therefore not only providing employees with information on their entitlement, but acts as a guide for line managers in how to manage requests.
  • Consider incoporporating other ways of support that you can provide, in the event of someone not qualyfying for the statutory leave itself.  This would make it more of an inclusive policy throughout your business.
  • Give your line managers clear guidance on how to handle such situations and what they are authorised to agree, and clarify any “boundaries” in terms of authorising time off, extra paid leave, amending rules (eg regarding personal phone calls during working hours), short-term advances of salary/loans – this will help to ensure that employees are treated fairly and consistently.
  • When an employee is struggling and comes to you for support, start by offering empathy and reassurance – often all that is needed initially is for the employee to be reassured that they can raise an issue when it arises. But many employees will be concerned about their job security and/or the impact that caring commitments may have on their longer-term career prospects, so any reassurance that you can offer will be appreciated.
  • Treat each case individually – do not try to anticipate needs as each situation will vary, and will also change as the health and circumstances of the person being cared for changes. Some needs may be regular and predictable, such as changes to tasks (eg no long distance travelling or overnight stays, possibly a risk assessment if constant tiredness is a risk) or working hours (eg possibly a later start in the morning to enable morning care, or a longer lunch break to enable the employee to return home to feed/change the person being cared for) – but it is often more complicated than this! Ongoing flexibility will be key.
  • Find out as much as your employee will tell you – what support systems are in place (and are planned), what flexibility do they actually need, what are their suggestions as to how to manage this. If you have an employee assistance programme, then encourage your employee to use it.
  • Consider what you can agree to – in the short term and also on an ongoing basis. Your employee may request a temporary or ongoing reduction in working hours/pay, or may wish to try to juggle work and caring responsibilities, for example, working from home at flexible times during the day or evening (perhaps when the person being cared for is asleep or when someone else is able to cover caring). Confirm your agreements in writing so that your expectations are clear.
  • Does your employee need more flexibility during working times than your rules normally allow regarding the use of mobile or other phones (to take emergency calls or to monitor that things are OK at home), or to be on call in case of need?
  • For those who are not entitled to statutory carer’s leave, consider if it is likely that there will be regular, short absences and therefore could you offer options such as making the time up, using flexi-days, time off in lieu, or authorised unpaid leave to cover such absences? If not, then consider whether you can give more flexibility in terms of how holiday is taken (ie half days, or even hours, rather than full days only). What can you both do to plan for unexpected disruption – do you have back up cover in place for key tasks?
  • If your employee is considering employing carers/cleaners/home help, do remind them of the associated responsibilities ie the NMW, holiday, sick pay, family leave, auto-enrolment, the right not to be unfairly dismissed and the responsibility for tax and NI payments. It may be easier to use agency staff – whilst the hourly rate will be higher, these responsibilities will be taken care of by the agency who will provide alternative carers in the event of sickness or holiday absences. The NHS is unable to recommend providers – if you are a large employer, it may be worth having an internal online resource that enables carers to share recommendations and tips and offer moral support to each other as carers can feel isolated and unsupported.
  • Ensure that team briefings, training sessions, updates etc are scheduled at times and venues that suit everyone – consider using Skype or GoToMeeting if the worker is home based, so that they can participate.
  • Consider colleagues – discuss with your employee how open any communications to them should be, and then ensure that colleagues know what arrangements have been agreed and what adjustments they may make to need to accommodate these. If it appears that some employees are allowed flexibility and others are not, and the difference in treatment is not justified by the requirement of their roles, or if carers are perceived not to be pulling their weight, then what starts out as initial sympathy and co-operation from colleagues can quickly turn into resentment if they perceive that their goodwill is being taken for granted – so ensure that things are fair, monitored and managed.
  • Finances – carers may face unexpected expenditure whilst they apply for grants, or give notice to withdraw money from savings accounts – often a short-term salary advance or loan may be a godsend.
  • Power of attorney – many people leave it too late to put in place the power of attorney which enables them to have control over the individual’s finances and health decisions when the individual is no longer able to manage this. Where appropriate, you may wish to remind your employee that this should be considered at an early stage, when the individual being cared for is mentally capable of signing these.
  • Managers should be aware that after 2-3 months, employees suddenly faced with caring responsibilities may be tired and may be struggling even more than at the beginning when they may have thought that the situation was temporary and short-term. In many cases, it is impossible to predict future requirements so offer regular review meetings to discuss how things are going and amend the arrangements if necessary.
  • Maintain an open route to communications so that your employee feels able to discuss any issues.

Legal considerations

New statutory employment rights

The Carer’s Act 2023 came into force from 6 April 2024 and:

  • Is a day one employment right
  • All eligible employees are entitled to a maximum of one unpaid time off to provide or arrange care for a dependant with a long-term care need, or who is of old age.
  • The definition of a dependant is the same as that used for the right to time off for dependants.
  • The catch all provision being a person who reasonably relies on the employee for care.
  • Employees cannot be penalised for taking advantage of carer’s leave.
  • A dismissal connected to the taking of carer’s leave will be automatically unfair.

See our article, The Carer’s Leave Act 2023.

Time off for dependants

All employees have the right to take reasonable (unpaid) time off for emergency care for dependants, and from 1 April 2024, employees will, from day one of employment will have the statutory right to request flexible working (ie a change to their regular working hours, tasks or location of work).

However, the right to time off for dependants only covers emergencies (so not routine hospital/doctors/opticians/dental/social work appointments, many of which may be hard to arrange around other commitments). It is also limited to the time needed to make alternative care arrangements, rather than to actually provide the care (so normally a few hours, or a couple of days). The right to request flexible working covers a change to regular contractual terms, which may help some carers where the needs are routine, but employers may refuse a request and the legislation does not cover working flexibly on a day to day basis – the demands placed on carers may be unpredictable.

Employees who are subjected to a detriment on the basis of their caring responsibilities may be protected under the Equality Act (on the grounds of associative discrimination if the person being cared for has a protected characteristic, eg age or disability). However, the requirement to make “reasonable adjustments” only applies to a disabled person, not to that person’s carer.

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