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Support for carers at work

Being a carer can be very stressful, and getting support from your employer can make life easier.

You don't have to tell your employer you're a carer; this is entirely up to you. However, as an employee, there are some statutory rights your employer has to give, and they may even offer additional support. You can find out about the support available by speaking to your line manager, the personnel department, your welfare officer, occupational health adviser, or union/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 the simplest things 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 bring their stress levels down. Below 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 because things have not gone smoothly at home, it's good to know that you will not have to apologise or explain yourself. Find out more about flexible working at GOV.UK.

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 sort it out quickly.

Car parking space near work

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

Working from home

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

Unpaid and paid leave

As well as your statutory right to take time off in an emergency, your employer may allow you extra time off, either paid or unpaid. This can help when you need to look after the person in your care for a longer period of time, such as when they come out of hospital. 

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 offer paid or unpaid career breaks, so it is worth checking. It would mean 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 Carer’s Allowance.

Discrimination and employment

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

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

You'll be protected from discrimination at work whether you're:

  • full-time or part-time 
  • in permanent or temporary work
  • a freelancer

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 how you're recruited
  • the amount of pay or other benefits you receive
  • other terms and conditions of work
  • the way in which your appraisals take place
  • the training made available to you
  • decisions made to dismiss you from work or make you redundant
  • 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 have been refused the right to work flexibly could argue that they're being discriminated against. If you're in this situation, you should seek advice urgently.

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, get legal advice.

Information you need to give the tribunal

If you're applying to a tribunal because of discrimination, you'll need to describe the incidents 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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The 2 comments posted 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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Page last reviewed: 24/02/2014

Next review due: 24/02/2016

Call Carers Direct on 0300 123 1053

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