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Working and Caring

What about work? Juggling the job of caring while you’re employed

There are days when looking after a parent can feel like a full-time job. Yet many of us can’t afford or don’t want to let go of our working lives. Fortunately, the law is now catching up with the challenges of a population that is living longer – but often needing more support too.

Employment rights

Recent changes to legislation mean you now have the right to request flexible working, if you have been with your employer for at least 26 weeks. Flexibility can mean the days or times you work, or where you work, but be aware that depending on the company size and the nature of your role, the law also gives employers the right to refuse the request.

You’ll find more information and a guide to requesting flexible working here.  

Flexible thinking

If this looks like a good route for you then it’s worth exploring all of the ways others have found to give themselves the breathing space they need:

  • Becoming a job sharer
  • Working from home
  • Varying the hours to start earlier or later, or take extended lunch breaks in the middle of the day
  • Working the hours over fewer days
  • Going part-time
  • Taking a ‘sabbatical’ for an agreed length of time while you make arrangements for whoever it is you are caring for.

Time off in emergencies

The law also gives you the right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependent. However, whether you get paid or not for this time is up to the employers’ discretion. This could cover a break down in the care arrangements for your parents, a crisis involving hospitalisation, or the need to make longer term arrangements. The Equality Act also protects you from discrimination because you are looking after someone who is elderly or disabled. For example, you can’t be refused a promotion because of your caring responsibilities.

Deciding whether to stay or go

There are plenty of excellent employers out there who understand the importance of a healthy work-life balance if their staff are going to perform at their best. If you’re lucky enough to work for one, it’s worth talking to them at the earliest opportunity about what your future options might be.  If you’re less lucky – or are working for yourself – the sorts of things you might want to consider are:

  • Would a few simple changes to the when, where and how you work make a dramatic difference?
  • Do you have any idea how long you might need to be involved in supporting your parents and are the demands likely to get greater, or, in the case or terminal illness, be only for a period. This may affect your choice.
  • Have you done the sums to see how you’ll cope financially if you have to vary your hours or take time off?
  • How would flexible working affect your pension if you have one?

You might also want to think about some alternatives, including getting more care at home.