As well as your right to flexible working, carers have other rights at work.
Also known as time off for dependants, the Employment Rights Act 1996 (in Northern Ireland The Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996) gives all employees the right to take a 'reasonable' amount of time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. Whether the time off is paid or not is at the discretion of the employer.
A dependant includes your husband, wife or partner, child or parent, or someone living with you as part of your family. Others who rely on you for help in an emergency may also qualify.
The situations where leave might be taken are:
- a disruption or breakdown in care arrangements
- to deal with the death of a dependant
- if a dependant falls ill, has been assaulted or in an accident
- to make longer term arrangements for a dependant who is ill or injured (but not to provide long term care yourself).
- to deal wth an incident involving a child during school hours.
To use this right to time off, employees must inform their employer as soon as possible after the emergency has happened.
This right can also give you some protection from vicitimisation and dismissal. If you think you have been treated unfavourably because of using this right, seek further advice from your union or a legal adviser.
If you have at least one year's continuous service with your employer and are responsible for a child aged under 5, or under 18 if your child is entitled to Disability Living Allowance, you are entitled to:
- 18 weeks (unpaid) leave per child to look after your child, or
- 18 weeks (unpaid) leave per child to look after your disabled child.
To qualify for parental leave, you must be a parent (named on the birth certificate), adoptive parent, or have acquired legal parental responsibility for the child.
The leave must be taken by the child's fifth birthday, or for a child who is entitled to Disability Living Allowance, by their 18th birthday. For parents who have adopted a child, the leave must be taken during the five years from the date of placement or before the child's 18th birthday, whichever is the sooner.
Leave can be taken in blocks of a week (and usually up to four weeks in a year), or blocks of a day if the leave is to care for a disabled child (again, usually up to a maximum of four weeks a year). Collective or workforce agreements may allow employees to take more than four weeks off in a year.
You must give at least 21 days' notice to your employer in order to take parental leave.
Parental leave can be postponed by employers if taking leave at the time requested would cause particular disruption to the organisation, eg during a seasonal peak in work or if multiple requests for parental leave are made at the same time.
If leave is postponed, employers must inform the employee within seven days of the request for leave being made, and the leave must be granted within six months. Parental leave cannot be postponed if it has been requested for the time immediately after the birth of a child or the start of an adoption placement.
Protection from discrimination
Although up until recently carers have not been directly (or explicitly) protected from discrimination in the workplace, this situation has now changed. If you are looking after someone who is elderly or disabled, the law - under the Equality Act 2010 - will protect you against direct discrimination or harrassment because of your caring responsibilities. This is because you are counted as being 'associated' with someone who is protected by the law because of their age or disability.
Direct discrimination is where you are treated less favourably than someone else because you are caring for an elderly or disabled person. This could include your employer:
- refusing to offer you a job because of your caring responsibilities
- not offering you a prmotion because of your caring responsibilities