Carers to get right to time off
Aside from ‘Time off for dependants’ ‘The right to make a flexible working request’ and ‘The right to take parental leave’, the law does not currently provide specific carer leave, meaning the decision will be down to you and your management team. In situations where a carer is facing an emergency, you may wish to offer them an extended period of leave in order to manage it. Whilst the CIPD recommends five days, this could be as long as you feel it needs to be.
Offering additional paid leave may not be an option for smaller businesses, but they could instead consider offering this in a diminished capacity. For example, maybe they could limit the pay provided during this time away.
Any carer leave provided should be consistent across the board. Leave that favours some staff over others could result in claims of unfair treatment and/or discrimination.
Right to time off coming soon
In March 2020, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) launched a consultation asking for comments on a proposal to give employees a week of unpaid leave each year to provide care.
Having considered the 840 replies which the consultation received, the Government has now issued its response.
This confirms its intention to introduce an entitlement to carer’s leave as a day one right for employees and outlines the decisions that the Government has taken on what the leave entitlement will look like.
Unpaid carers will be able to take up to one week (five working days) of unpaid leave per year. This can be taken flexibly, either in individual days or half-days, up to a block of one week.
Eligibility will rely on the carer’s relationship with the person being cared for, which should broadly follow the definition of dependant used in the right to time off for dependants: a spouse, civil partner, child, parent, a person who lives in the same household as the employee (other than by reason of them being their employee, tenant, lodger, or boarder) or a person who reasonably relies on the employee for care. The person being cared for should have a long-term care need.
This would be defined as a long-term illness or injury (physical or mental), a disability as defined under the Equality Act 2010, or issues related to old age. There would be limited exemptions from the requirement for long-term care, for example in the case of terminal illness.
There is no indication as to a time-table for introducing this new right, however, and the response document makes clear that legislation to introduce the day one statutory employment right will be brought forward “when parliamentary time allows”.
Carer friendly workplace
You should always aim to be an open and caring employer to individuals from all backgrounds and situations. Publicly showing and remaining committed to this can help encourage both staff loyalty and retention, alongside encouraging a stronger company reputation overall. As demand for equal opportunities at work remains such a prevalent topic, taking actions to work towards such a goal can be key for the continued development of your business.
This is especially important when taking the needs of working carers into account. A third of working carers do not discuss their caring responsibilities whilst at work, whilst one fourth have considered giving up work entirely as a result of a poor work/life balance. The impact of this cannot be underestimated; you could potentially lose out on otherwise valuable members of staff with potential to progress in your company, whilst the carer is denied opportunity to develop professionally that they may otherwise have had.
By taking steps to assist working carers, you can aim to avoid staff leaving earlier than they otherwise would have done or having to take prolonged related absences. You can also help them to work against stress that could arise as a result of their situation, something that could be very damaging to their overall productivity and, if left unchecked, lead to the development of a mental illness.
In a worst-case scenario, a carer who does develop a mental health disability could potentially claim they have been discriminated against due to lack of support from their employer.