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How to create a carer-friendly workplace

By Cecily Lalloo, managing director of Embrace HR

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When an employee in the care sector is also a carer for someone at home it can be a difficult situation to navigate. 

Cecily Lalloo, managing director of Embrace HR, shares some advice on creating a ‘carer-friendly’ workplace and what support is out there for your staff. 

Over five million people in the UK are thought to provide unpaid care to someone they love, such as a friend or family member who needs support due to illness, disability or a mental health problem. 

According to figures from Carers UK, 2.5 million of these are also in employment, many of whom struggle to manage both work and care. 

Balancing employment with caring responsibilities can take a huge toll on the mental and physical health of the carer, with many reporting that they are tired, stressed out and need more support. 

As an employer it’s important that you foster a compassionate and supportive environment for staff who may be going through this, but also that you know how to navigate these challenges effectively from a business perspective. 

The introduction of the Carers Leave Act 

On 6 April, 2024, the Carers Leave Act 2023 for which draft regulations were set out in December 2023, will come into force.

The Act aims to help support unpaid carers to remain in work alongside their caring responsibilities. The Care Act is specifically for adults caring for adults. Young carers and parent-carers of children have protection under the Children and Families Act 2014. 

If approved by Parliament, any employee who balances work with unpaid care will be entitled to at least one week’s leave within any 12-month period, to care for, or arrange care for, a dependent with long-term care needs.

According to the Act, dependants with long-term care needs are:

  • ‘A person is a dependant of an employee if they: are a spouse, civil partner, child or parent of the employee; live in the same household as the employee, otherwise than by reason of being the employee’s boarder, employee, lodger or tenant; or reasonably rely on the employee to provide or arrange care’. 
  • ‘A dependant of an employee has a long-term care need if: they have an illness or injury (whether physical or mental) that requires, or is likely to require, care for more than three months; they have a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010; or they require care for a reason connected with their old age.’

The leave is unpaid and will be eligible to everyone, regardless of how long they have been with the company and no evidence is required to support a request. It can be taken at any time, non-consecutively.

Not only will having a right to Carer’s Leave support the health and wellbeing of employees with caring responsibilities, but it will also improve retention and recruitment in the workplace, as unpaid carers feel seen and valued for what could be the first time.

Navigating Carers Leave within the private care sector 

For those working in the private care sector with families or individuals, navigating Carers Leave may present more of a challenge, especially without the formal workplace structures found in other sectors.

Employees often form part of small, close-knit teams of support workers who work within a clients’ home. Their case managers, normally as line manager, may not be on site every day and they often have a more direct relationship with the client’s family. 

In these cases, communication and cooperation are key between the employee and their manager and options should be discussed and considered from both perspectives. 

It is crucial that staff are able to be up front about any challenges they may be experiencing and any need they may have to take Carer’s Leave to ensure the support team can continue to provide the best possible standard of care to the client. 

Managers should promote an open culture and hold regular one-to-one conversations with team members. Asking questions about their wellbeing as part of discussions around client care and performance, gives employees the opportunity to raise any personal issues that may be affecting them and their work.

Having a supportive manager will encourage employees to come forward about the fact that they are a carer and may need some support and flexibility. 

How you can support your employee 

While the introduction of the Carer’s Act is welcome, some organisations are advocating for paid leave to be available to help ease the financial burden on carers.

Companies are also urged to think about introducing carer-related policies which go beyond the scope of the Act to further support their employees. 

If you are not in a position to give a member of staff paid time off, you could try to limit the financial impact of this, such as agreeing for carers to make up the time where possible.  

In some cases, for example, if an employee is caring for a family member who is terminally ill, they may need more than the five days leave granted by the Act. 

Under these circumstances it is understandable that they may not be performing to the best of their ability at work. You may notice that they are more tired or stressed than usual, or are generally struggling to cope with the job and would benefit from some time away from the workplace. 

It is important to recognise this, not only from the perspective of the employee’s health and wellbeing, but also that of the client they are responsible for and their family.

With the best will in the world, as a small organisation it may not be possible to offer paid leave for a longer period of time, however, there may be other options for support that you can point your employee to.

Financial support for unpaid carers

As an employer you should be able to direct your staff to the information and support that is available to them. 

They may be entitled to some financial support from the government, for example:

Attendance Allowance 

This helps with extra costs if someone has a disability severe enough that they need someone to help look after them. 

Carer’s Allowance 

An individual may be entitled to £66.15 a week if they care for someone at least 35 hours a week and get certain benefits. 

Carer’s Credit 

Carer’s Credit is a National Insurance credit that helps with gaps in your National Insurance record for those caring for someone 20 hours a week or more. 

Disabled Facilities Grant 

A Disabled Facilities Grant is awarded by the local authority grant to help towards the cost of adapting the home to enable the person who is looked after to continue to live there.

Some charities also offer grants and financial support:

Carers Trust grants 

The Carers Trust awards grants to unpaid carers across the UK. Carers may be able to receive a Carers Fund grant as part of a package of support from their local Carers Trust Network Partner. 

Turn2us 

A free service that helps people in financial need to access welfare benefits, charitable grants and other financial help.

Disability Grants 

Offer financial support for those living with a disability and their families, including housing, equipment and holidays.

Changes to Paternity Leave 

Employers also need to be aware of changes to the law around Statutory Paternity Leave, which will also come into play from April 2024.

Currently partners are entitled to take paternity leave any time within the first eight weeks after the birth or adoption of a child. 

Under the new rules, employees will be able to take paternity leave at any point in the first year and will have the option to split it up into two separate weeks, rather than having to take two weeks together. 

They will also only be required to give 28 days’ notice of the leave they intend to take, rather than 15 weeks before the birth, although notice of entitlement must still be given 15 weeks prior.

Employers should ensure that they update their paternity leave policies and ensure that people managers are aware of the upcoming changes, as well as communicating these to employees.

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