Today's Carers Rights Day; a day that aims to make carers aware of their rights, and to help them find out how they can access the support they’re entitled to. Whilst being a carer can affect you physically and emotionally, it can also have a big impact financially - for example you might struggle to balance your work life with caring for a loved one.

Our wonderful Work Support team have put together some tips and advice on how best to approach your work life as a carer:

The first thing to look at is who can be defined as a carer?

We may automatically think that this relates to people who care for young children or elder relatives, but it has a wider definition than this.

The Carer’s Trust refer to an NHS definition of a carer as:

“A carer is anyone, including children and adults who looks after a family member, partner or friend who needs help because of their illness, frailty, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction and cannot cope without their support. The care they give is unpaid.”

Carers who call the Work Support Service on our Support Line often have a lot of questions about balancing work and caring for a loved one.

Practical worries like attending medical appointments with the patient, taking time off, reducing or changing working hours or dealing with emergencies are raised regularly.

The law breaks down into two areas – statutory rights and contractual rights. Statutory rights are those defined in law and contractual rights are those that are either written into your employment contract or staff handbook.

With most work-related questions, the starting point is to ask HR or your manager – do we have a policy for carers?

Check your staff handbook and contract – can you find anything there? It is also worth looking at time off or leave policies because there might be special allowances for carers.

Once you know if your employer has any policies then this is the starting point for a conversation with your manager. What your contract says and what the law says might be different. Some employers are generous and supportive and give entitlement to compassionate leave and paid time off. For others you may be able to negotiate according to your circumstances. It’s important to note that the rights for employees and workers can be different.              

What are your minimum rights as a carer?

  • As an employee you are entitled to reasonable time off to deal with an emergency related to a dependant. Although this right does not guarantee that you will be paid, it provides protection against being dismissed or disciplined for taking this time off.
  • Unfortunately, there is no legal right to take time off to attend medical appointments with a dependant, but some employers might be flexible. For example, they might allow you to make up the time later or let you accrue extra hours so that you can manage time off for your caring responsibilities.
  • If you are an employee and you have 26 week’s continuous service, you have the right to request flexible working. For example, you could think about working from home, working part-time, compressing your hours or job-sharing. The Working Families website also have a lot of useful information, including an example of a letter requesting flexible working.
  • If the patient is a child, then parents can use their rights to parental leave to take time off. These rights do not guarantee that parents will be paid and there are conditions.
  • Anyone who is diagnosed with cancer is protected from discrimination by the Equality Act or in Northern Ireland the Disability Discrimination Act. Carers of people affected by cancer are also protected 'by association'. This means that if carers are treated unfairly by their employer because of their caring responsibilities this may be classed as discrimination.
  • Some employers can offer you a “career break”. We recommend a cautious approach to these offers. You may want to ensure that you retain your continuity of service and that your employer keeps your job open to you because some employers do not give these protections. It is important to get advice.
  • USDAW (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) have produced a useful guide that covers the many concerns and worries faced by carers called Working Carers Know Your Rights.
  • There is also another useful resource to refer your manager to called Employers for Carers.

    You might also like to read our booklet Working Whilst Caring for Someone with Cancer.

    If you do feel that you’d like support or more information, then please do call us on the Work Support Team on the Macmillan Support Line. Our number is 0808 808 0000, and we’re on option 1 followed by option 3, from 8am till 6pm, Monday to Friday.

    If you’re a carer looking after someone with cancer, why not visit our carers only group to talk to other's who are going through, or have been through a similar experience to yourself. You can also find some advice on being a carer via our website.