Image by Marten Bjork
Work and Caring

Work doesn’t eliminate caring responsibilities. What many of us face is a juggling act, first often centred on children and later in life on elderly parents (in some cases life may call on us to deal with both generations simultaneously).

When our parents need us, we may try our best to meet the demands independent of our employer, calling on favours from friends and family, but the truth is, that help may not be enough when it comes to the complex or consistent needs our parents may have. If you’re employed you may need to ask for help from your employer.

By union and employment expert Sharon Elliott
Your rights
Leave for family emergencies

It’s worth mentioning first off that there is a statutory right to reasonable unpaid time off to deal with a family emergency. You don’t need to work for your employer for a minimum period of time to access this right; it exists from day one. To qualify the emergency must relate to parents, children, a spouse or partner and relate to sickness, acci...

Leave for family emergencies

The right to request flexible working applies to all employees provided they have at least six months’ continuous service. (Staff no long need to be carers to request flexible working, but the legal right originated there). It’s important to stress that this law gives you the right to make the request; employers are not obliged to agree but they ar...

What does your staff handbook say?

As you investigate the possibilities for help from your employer, be sure to check out the Staff Handbook, or equivalent document, which lays out the company’s approach to staffing matters and staff welfare. The document should refer to statutory rights but your employer may well enhance these. You may find, too, some useful statements or commitmen...

What does flexible working look like?

Flexible working could mean part-time working, working from home, extended day working or even a sabbatical depending on the nature of the caring responsibilities you need to fulfil. Don’t rule anything out including the possibility of a trial; think creatively about the flexibility you need as you seek to maintain your commitment to your employer.

Sources of help

Check out the government site as well as the conciliation service ACAS

Citizens Advice and Age UK may also be able to help. If your employer is large, there may be internal groups you could consult. And you could also speak confidentially to Human Resources or to your union representative. You may also want to consider your legal rights. In some cases disputes can be taken to an Employment Tribunal - but strict time limits apply. Check out

Sharon Elliott is former Communications Officer at the BECTU Union
Remenber, employment regulations can be subject to change at short notice. Always check the .gov website for updates.