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Carers' Rights and Flexible Working

Approximately one in eight people in the UK have some sort of caring responsibilities. Most are parents caring for children, but others are looking after parents, siblings with disabilities or another close family member requiring care. The chances are you have carers in your workforce.

Most employers are clued up on the employment around employees who are parents – maternity rights, parental leave, adoption leave, the right to request flexible working and so on – but what about those who are caring for parents (for example), what do they get?

Non-parent carers – the legal position

Employees caring for dependants can apply for a flexible working arrangement, whether or not they are the primary carer. Requests may include changes to working hours or number of hours, or maybe working from home. Carers may also be entitled to time off.

Anyone with more than 26 weeks’ service may make a flexible working request, but only one in any 12-month period. Requests should be in writing and reference any previous requests. Employers are not obligated to agree, but must reasonably consider the request, assessing the pros and cons of the proposal, meeting with the employee to discuss the request, and respond within three months. To reject the request, you need a sound business-related reason such as additional cost, reduction in quality of work, or a negative impact on customers.

Benefits of supporting carers

Carers are a significant proportion of the population and, therefore, the UK labour market. Not supporting employees with caring responsibilities limits your potential recruits.

You also risk losing high-performing existing employees who could continue to do the job - but just not in the standard hours. What’s more, well-managed flexible arrangements can reduce stress and avoid loss of employees to sick leave.

Carer Positive, a Scottish government initiative, suggests that a supportive approach to carers can:

  • Attract and retain staff.
  • Reduce stress and sickness absence.
  • Reduce recruitment and training costs.
  • Increase resilience and productivity.
  • Improve service delivery.
  • Save costs.
  • Improve people management and staff morale,

Finally, with an ageing population, the number of carers is only going to increase. By 2037, it will likely be around 1 in 6.

Can I say ‘no’ to a flexible working request?

Of course you can. As long as you can justify the refusal on business grounds, and naturally, there should be consistency in the way requests are dealt with (e.g. if employees Joe and Joan are in comparable circumstances and make similar requests, the employer’s response should be consistent). A lack of consistency is more likely to make your ‘no’ sound unreasonable and may result in the employee taking it further, perhaps even to a tribunal. So, fair treatment is important. As is providing some sort of appeals process aiming to address any disagreements internally (and fairly).

For general advice on flexible working requests and employer responsibilities towards employees who are carers, try https://www.gov.uk/employers-for-carers. For more specific guidance on how to handle requests in a reasonable manner, ACAS offer a very useful Code of Practice for free download.

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