How to support employees who are carers

Younger and older woman chatting for a blog about supporting employees who are carers

According to Carers UK, it’s estimated that there are five million unpaid carers in England and Wales, with one in seven people in the workplace in the UK  juggling work and care. On average, 600 people a day leave work to care. As a manager or business owner, one of your key responsibilities is to support your employees in balancing their personal and professional lives. So how do you support an employee who is also a carer?

Understanding the scope of unpaid care

The statistics from Carers UK reveal a significant trend:

  • 7% of the population in England and Wales provide 20 hours or more of care a week.
  • Over the decade from 2010 to 2020, 4.3 million people annually became unpaid carers – that’s 12,000 people every day.
  • 59% of unpaid carers are women, and they are more likely to provide higher intensity care at ages typically associated with paid work.
  • The sectors with the highest numbers of unpaid carers set to benefit from these rights are public administration, education and health (976,000). This is followed by distribution, hotels and restaurants sector (443,000) and financial, real estate, professional and administrative (396,000).

These figures highlight the importance of implementing robust support mechanisms for employees with caring responsibilities.

Carer’s rights in the workplace: Statutory Carer’s Leave entitlement

From April 2024, the new statutory carer’s leave entitlement (part of the Carer’s Leave Act 2023) entitles employees in England, Wales and Scotland up to a week of unpaid leave each year to care for someone who relies on them due to illness, injury, disability, or age-related care needs. This entitlement is a day-one right, this means that employees do not need to have a certain length of service to qualify.

Key features of the Carer’s Leave Act 2023 are:

  • Length: up to one week (pro-rated based on working days) every 12 months.
  • Usage: it can be taken as full days, half days or all at once.
  • Eligibility: It’s available for anyone caring for dependents with long-term health needs, disabilities or age-related care needs.
  • Notice: Employees must provide notice twice the length of the leave requested, or at least three days for longer leave.

It’s important to note that carer’s leave cannot be used to provide general childcare but can be for a child with long-term health or disability-related care needs. This is covered by unpaid parental leave.

The new legislation is welcomed by organisations like Carers UK as a step forward in supporting working carers, allowing them to manage their responsibilities without the added pressure of choosing between their job and caregiving duties.

What is the definition of a carer?

Employers are advised to understand the definition of a carer, as this can help to distinguish between the needs of those with caring responsibilities and those with childcare issues.

Employers for Carers has developed the following definition as a best practice example:

“Carers are employees with caring responsibilities that have an impact on their working lives. These employees are responsible for the care and support of relatives or friends who are older, disabled or seriously ill who are unable to care for themselves.”

Implementing the Carer’s Leave Act

Employers need to follow a process for approving leave requests.

  • They cannot ask for evidence relating to an employee’s caring responsibilities.
  • They also cannot ask how the worker intends to use their leave (this is due to data protection issues).

Supporting carers in the workplace

It’s advisable to take a positive approach allowing staff to self-identify as carers. For example, this could be through a general staff survey (by including a question on caring responsibilities) or by asking them to complete a self-certification form.

Ensuring the business has a policy to cover carer’s leave is essential. This should be accompanied by training for line managers to esure it’s implemented properly and fairly.

What to include in a carer’s leave policy

A carer’s leave policy needs to state how an employer will deal with requests for unpaid carer’s leave. This means clearly defining:

  • Carers and dependents
  • The company policy on whether the leave is paid or unpaid
  • How much leave an employee is entitled to
  • Notice periods for leave requests
  • Examples of caring responsibilities
  • Signposts to additional support
  • Details of other arrangements specific to the business, such as flexible working policies.

All policies should be reviewed in line with the new legislation.

Other ways to support carers

Flexible working arrangements can help employees with caring responsibilities. These could include:

  • Flexible working hours – start and finish times.
  • Compressed hours – allowing staff to work their required hours over fewer days.
  • Remote working – offering the possibility of working from home to reduce commuting time.

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs)

EAPs can be a valuable tool in offering support to carers. These typically provide counselling services, advice and resources (spanning everything from financial planning to legal advice). At Bespoke HR, we offer Wellness Cloud to our staff and all our clients. They can access free webinars, counselling and advice services.

Carer support networks

Establishing internal carer support networks can create a sense of community and shared understanding. These can offer peer support (where employees share experiences, advice and support each other) and information sessions (regular sessions on topics related to caregiving such as managing stress). Creating internal networks can help staff feel less isolated and supported within the workplace.

Training and awareness

Raising awareness of the challenges faced by carers is crucial. There are ways you can increase awareness within the business, including:

  • Training for managers: to equip them with the skills to support carers effectively, including understanding the legal rights of carers and recognising the signs of stress or burnout.
  • Awareness campaigns: to highlight the realities of caregiving and the importance of the subject.

Promoting a work-life balance

Encouraging a healthy work-life balance is beneficial for all employees, but especially those who are carers. Just some of the steps you can take as an employer are:

  • Checking in regularly: encourage managers to have regular one on one meetings to discuss their workload and wellbeing.
  • Encourage breaks: promoting regular breaks during the day is essential, as is ensuring employees use their full holiday entitlement.
  • Managing their workload: monitor workloads to prevent burnout.

Measure the impact

All managers should regularly assess the effectiveness of the support strategies in place. They should collect feedback through surveys or focus groups to understand their needs and experiences better. This feedback should be used to refine and improve policies and practices continually.

Supporting employees who are carers is not just a compassionate choice, but a strategic one. With 600 people a day leaving work to care, and over 75% of carers in employment worrying about balancing work and care, creating a supportive environment can help retain valuable staff and boost overall productivity.

For support with your hiring processes from our team of HR consultants, you can find out about how to work with Bespoke HR here. 

Written by:

Alison King
Managing Director - Alison founded Bespoke HR in October 2005. After many years working for others in senior HR functions; she decided to start up on her own. There isn’t much that Alison doesn’t know about the world of HR, and she has surrounded herself with a team in her own mould.