Carers’ rights at work

If you’re a carer, it can be a lot to juggle caring responsibilities and work.

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We support people with complex disabilities of all ages and their carers. Get in touch with our team to find out more about Sense services.

This page explains carers’ rights in the workplace, including your right to time off in an emergency and protection against discrimination.

On this page:

Flexible working for carers

Flexible working can help you to balance your work and caring responsibilities. 

Wherever you are in the UK, you have the right to request flexible working arrangements if you’ve been working for your employer for at least six months. 

It’s worth checking with your employer what the rights are for employees at your company. You may have better rights to flexible working than the basic rights available to all workers in the UK by law.

Flexible working might mean: 

Changing your working hours 

You work the same number of hours, but maybe you start work earlier or finish later. 

Working compressed hours 

You work the same number of hours but over fewer days – instead of 9am to 5pm over five days, you might work 8am to 6pm over four days. Or maybe you compress ten working days into nine days over a fortnight. 

Job sharing 

You share your job with a colleague and split the hours between you. 

Part-time or term-time working 

You may prefer to look at working shorter days or fewer days. Or maybe working during school term time only and taking paid or unpaid leave or your salary is paid on a pro-rata basis.  

Time off for dependants

If there’s an emergency or unexpected event that involves a person who is dependent on you, you have the right to time off. 

There is no limit on how much time off you can take, or how often. The law only says that it should be “reasonable”. 

Your dependant could be your partner, your parent, your child or someone else who relies on you for help. 

An emergency or unexpected event might be, for example: 

  • Your usual arrangements for care are cancelled or changed. 
  • The person you care for is ill or has an accident.
  • You need to organise long-term arrangements for the person you care for. 
  • There has been an incident involving your child at school. 
  • Your dependant has passed away.

It must be an unplanned event that you didn’t know about beforehand. If you need time off for your disabled child’s hospital appointment, for example, that would be something to discuss with your employer in advance.

Once the emergency happens, it’s a good idea to let your employer know you’ll need time off as soon as you can. 

It’s up to your employer’s company policy whether they pay you for time off for dependants. Ask your manager or check your contract if you’re not sure.

Protection against discrimination

Discrimination is when someone is treated unfairly. 

It is illegal for your employer to discriminate against you because you are a carer. 

An example of discrimination would be if your employer punished you for taking time off to take care of a dependant, but didn’t punish other employees for taking a similar amount of time off. 

The law in England, Wales and Scotland

The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination or harassment based on particular characteristics. These characteristics include disability.

It also protects people who are “associated” with people with protected characteristics. For example, if you have caring responsibilities for someone who is disabled. 

This means that it’s against the law for your employer to discriminate against you for being a carer.

The law in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, carers are protected from workplace discrimination by the Human Rights Act, and Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act. 

To find out more, speak to Carers Northern Ireland or contact the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.

If you think you’ve been treated unfairly at work

The first step is to speak to your employer about your concerns. It’s always best to sort things out informally if you can. 

If this doesn’t help to resolve the problem, you have a few other options. You might want to make a formal complaint, or go to an employment tribunal. 

Find out more from Citizens Advice about what you can do about discrimination at work. 

This content was last reviewed in October 2022. We’ll review it again in 2024.