June 10th to 16th is Carer’s Week. It is thought that 9% of people in employment – around 2.5 million people – are also unpaid carers. Nearly half of carers say caring has a negative effect on their job or ability to work. 
With so many carers in the workforce, many businesses are likely to have some carers in their workforce. 
What are the legal issues employers should know about? 
Time off 
Employees have the legal right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. You are not required to pay the employee for this time, but you can offer paid carers leave if you wish. 
There is no set time limit, but it is only for dealing with the emergency. This is not intended for long term leave. Once the emergency has passed you may ask your employee to take annual leave or parental leave. Again, you can choose to go above or beyond by offering longer periods of carers leave, paid or unpaid. 
The Carer’s Leave Bill also gives carers the right to up to five days of unpaid leave in addition to their annual leave. This leave is not limited to emergencies and can be used for planned commitments, such as medical appointments. 
When scheduling this leave, employees must give their employer at least three days’ notice for a half or whole day. When taking consecutive days, they must give twice as many days as the leave requested. For example, to take all five working days at once, the employee must give ten working days’ notice. 
Flexible working 
53% of unpaid carers who are employees said that flexible working helps them balance work and care. Carers have the same rights to flexible leave as other employees. 
All employees, whether they are carers or not, have the right to request flexible working from day one of employment. You may only refuse the request for specified business reasons and must consult with the employee first. 
However, you should take particular care when assessing requests from carers, as there is a risk of discrimination by association. 
Discrimination by association 
Discrimination by associations happens if an employee is treated less favourably because of the protected characteristic (for example, age or disability) of somebody they are associated with. 
In a recent case against Nationwide Building Society, an employee refused to give up her 2-3 days a week WFH which helped her care for her elderly, disabled mother. Because of this she was selected for redundancy. The building society was found to have discriminated by association in dismissing her and was ordered to pay £350,000 in compensation. 
Judge Mark Emery said the employer’s view was "not based on actual evidence or rational judgment and was instead based on subjective impressions." Had the company had a good business reason to justify the policy, the case may have been different. 
63% of carers said caring had a negative effect on their mental health. 
Many companies are tackling this through wellbeing initiatives. 43% of organisations say their wellbeing policy offers provision for carers to a large or moderate extent. These provisions include policies, guidance, awareness raising and training for line managers. 
However, 23% say their wellbeing policy has no specific support for carers at all. Given the number of carers in the workforce, and the impact caring has on their role, this could be damaging to productivity, morale, and retention. 
What else can employers do? 
Carers Week recommends that employers should go beyond the legal minimum to offer a range of support. This could include offering paid leave for carers or offering more than the minimum 5 days unpaid leave. 
You could also use a benchmarking scheme such as Carer Confident to assess and improve your support. 
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