Taking care of the carers

Added On: 2nd September 2011

Taking care of the carers

Employers can support their businesses by helping staff with extra caring responsibilities outside work.

Supporting employees caring for disabled children or elderly relatives might not seem the highest priority in difficult times. But employers have a legal obligation to do this, and cuts in local authority finances are likely to make it harder – and more time consuming – for parents of children with special needs, for example, to get the right level of support. Ensuring that your staff are aware of the help available to them could result in less employee work time being lost as a result, as well as improved staff loyalty.


Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees who have been with their employer for more than six months have the right to request flexible working if they have caring obligations for dependants, such as disabled children under 18, or elderly relatives. Although employers are not required to grant such a request, they must:

  • give it genuine consideration
  • call a meeting to discuss it, if they are unable to simply agree to it
  • have a real business reason if theyhave to turn the request down

Failing to do so could lead to a tribunal claim. The other risk faced by employers is a claim under the Equality Act if they discriminate against an employee because one of their dependants has a disability (or indeed any other aspect protected by the Act)

Going the extra mile

Caring for a disabled child or relative places a lot of strain on employees, taking up a lot of their time and almost all of their emotional energy. This inevitably has an impact on their work not to mention their work-life balance. Understanding your obligations in this area is one thing, but if you are able to better understand the issues being faced, and to offer some practical advice or possible solutions you are likely to reduce the potential burden on your business and improve employee contribution and loyalty.

Independent support could significantly reduce the amount of work hours spent, or time off taken off, by employees to deal with all the issues of trying to ensure that their children or relatives get the support they need.

It makes good business sense - as well as demonstrating the kind of approach that employees are increasingly seeking from their employers – to be in a position to offer advice on sources of support. Employers with staff going through this process can get advice and support from charities such as Independent Parental Special Educational Advice and the National Autistic Society. Age UK can be helpful for carers of elderly relatives.