A caring approach for retail employers

Employees are increasingly forced to juggle their work commitments alongside caring responsibilities for older or disabled relatives. Laura Morrison of Dentons looks at employer responsibilities under the law

Based in Dentons’ Edinburgh office, Laura Morrison is a senior practice development lawyer with over 13 years’ experience as an employment lawyer. 

How common is it for employees to have caring responsibilities?

Carers UK, a charity which supports carers, published a report in February called ‘Juggling work and unpaid care: a growing issue’. 

The report highlights the difficulties faced by those who are trying to work while also caring for their older and disabled relatives. It points out that this is becoming a significant problem of our time and one that is affecting more and more families in the UK.

The key findings, based on a poll commissioned by Carers UK, indicate that:

• More than 600 people quit work to look after older and disabled relatives every day.

• One in seven of the UK workforce is caring for a loved one.

• Some 7% believe unpaid caring had negatively impacted on their paid work.

The numbers leaving work due to their caring responsibilities have increased by 12% since 2013.

What legal rights do employees with caring responsibilities have?

Employees who have caring responsibilities can make a flexible working request to help them manage their responsibilities, although it is up to the employer to decide whether to grant this.

Employees also have the right to take time off to deal with unforeseen, emergency situations relating to their dependants. The Carers UK report indicates that this may not be enough and suggests that, among other initiatives, the government should introduce a new right to paid care leave, to try to address this growing issue.

As yet, however, there is no legal right to paid carers’ leave in the UK.

The EU is progressing a draft directive on work-life balance for parents and carers, the key provisions of which include a right to five days unpaid carers’ leave per year.  Irrespective of Brexit, the government recently committed to offering Parliament the opportunity to adopt the directive’s terms (once finalised) into UK law.

Carers UK is campaigning for the government to introduce five to 10 days of paid carers’ leave.

What extra support should employers considering offering?

Survey respondents were asked what their employers could do to help them manage their caring responsibilities alongside work.

A huge majority pointed to three key improvements: a supportive line manager or employer, flexible working arrangements and additional paid care leave of between five and 10 days a year.

Many in the retail sector already have a degree of flexible working, which can benefit all employees at no cost to the business. Employers could also consider introducing their own policy of providing a certain amount of paid (or unpaid) leave to carers – ahead of any legislation to that effect.

At lesser cost to retailers, raising awareness and providing training to line managers is an important first step in supporting employees with caring responsibilities.

The survey results also suggested that affected employees find it useful if employers provide information and advice for working carers.

Where can I find more information?

Carers UK has established an employer forum, Employers for Carers (employersforcarers.org), which offers practical help and advice to employers who want to support and retain carers. It is developing a benchmarking tool for employers who want to measure and improve their policy on carers.

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