Five ways employers can support employees who are carers

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According to recent research one worker in eight is a carer, while almost one in six has had to take time off work or work irregular hours because of caring responsibilities. Sarah Anderson sets out five ways to support carers in the workplace.

Supporting carers: research

XpertHR’s 2014 survey found that:

  • 66% agree or strongly agree with the statement “senior management in our organisation demonstrate a clear commitment to carer support”;
  • 39% have something in their policies on the rights of carers; and
  • only 9% have a dedicated carers policy in writing.

1. Introduce a carers policy

Employers can put in place a policy on carers to demonstrate their support and set out the practical arrangements that are in place for carers.

Employers should also ensure that relevant policies and procedures (for example those on flexible working) include care issues within their remit.

The existence of the carers policy and other relevant policies should be communicated regularly to the workforce, some of whom will be carers.

It is also a good idea for employers to take steps to raise awareness of the organisation’s support for carers. For example, via a poster campaign or leaflets circulated with payslips or during special events.

2. Train line managers to support carers

It is a good idea to provide training for line managers on supporting carers and adopting an understanding attitude.

Line managers are essential to making a carers policy work and are also likely to have an impact on a carer’s ability to balance the demands of work and care.

The training should cover issues such as what caring is, why carers should be supported, what employers have to do and what they should do, and identifying carers and communicating with them.

3. Allow carers to work flexibly

Providing flexible working arrangements is one of the key ways that that an employer can support carers in the workplace.

While any employee who has a minimum of 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer has the right to request flexible working, having policies on flexible working that go beyond the law can also benefit carers.

For example, an informal procedure for making flexible working requests in addition to a formal procedure can help employers to be more responsive to carers’ needs.

Flexible working arrangements that could benefit carers include giving time and private space to make personal telephone calls, flexible start and/or finish times, homeworking and part-time working.

4. Be flexible when carers need leave at short notice

Employers can support employees with caring responsibilities by offering flexible leave arrangements.

Flexible leave can help a carer to manage a crisis or when they need to take a longer period of time off work to care for someone.

While all employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work for dependants on an unpaid basis, employers can offer carers dealing with a crisis support that goes beyond this statutory entitlement.

For example, employers could pay employees when they take time off for dependants or give them the ability to make up the time at a later date.

Employers could also offer carers the opportunity to take an extended period of leave.

5. Provide information and peer-to-peer support

There are a number of other steps employers can take to support carers in the workplace. Employers can provide information to carers about what workplace and external support is available and how to access it.

This could be included in a carers guide that pulls all key information on caring together. Employers can also support carers by setting up and directing employees to peer-to-peer support groups.

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