Flexible Working Rules To Help Carers

Employees who also care for a sick relative will be allowed to ask their bosses for flexible working hours. It is estimated that one in eight people working in Wales are also looking after a disabled or chronically sick friend or relative.

The new law, which comes into force on Friday, is aimed at helping carers remain a part of the workforce and so improve their work-life balance. And it follows the introduction of laws four years ago which gave parents of young and disabled children the chance to work more flexibly.

Imelda Redmond, chief executive of Carers UK, said, “Each year over two million people become carers – some overnight, some more gradually – so each day sees a new population of carers in the workforce.

“Many businesses are already seeing the benefits of flexible work patterns for their employees in greater staff retention, higher skill levels and cost-efficiencies. Good flexible working arrangements need planning but they need not be difficult.”

And Alistair Darling, Trade and Industry Secretary said, “This new right is an important step and will make a real difference to those who give so much. More than 3.6m people have the right to request flexible working for parents of young and disabled children.

“Those rights are being worked through closely with business, who increasingly realise flexible working makes sense for them. Flexible working is changing the workplace up and down the country for the better of families and business.”

The new law does not automatically entitle employers to flexible working hours, but all employees must seriously consider any request made. Any employees who are, or expect to be caring for an adult partner, spouse or civil partner, near relative – including in-laws, uncles, aunts and step-relatives – or someone who lives at the same address as them can apply.

Different working hours could involve allowing employees to work their total number of agreed hours over a shorter period or allowing them to switch to flexi-time, when hours are worked outside “core” times.

Jim Fitzpatrick, Minister for Employment Relations, said, “The Government understands how difficult it can be for people to balance work responsibilities and caring for someone who is sick or disabled. The right to request flexible working will be invaluable to carers struggling to achieve the right work-care balance.

“Everyone should have a fair chance of entering and staying in employment if they decide to start a family or have commitments to care for a loved one. And everyone should be able to make a contribution, which is valued on an equal basis.”

Samantha Gulwell, 31, a British Gas customer sales adviser from Barry, benefited from flexible working hours when she was caring for her terminally-ill mother Norma. The mother-of-one said, “Being able to work flexibly will bring carers peace of mind. It’s important to know you still have a job, so you can focus on work and caring for your relative.”

She was able to reduce her hours of work for British Gas to fit in with her caring responsibilities, changing from an initial working pattern that included late evenings and weekends to a Monday to Friday, 8am to 4.30pm shift.

The company was also able to offer further flexibility – as Norma’s illness progressed Samantha further reduced her hours to a Monday to Friday, 8am to 2pm working pattern.

Phil Bentley, managing director of British Gas – one of the first UK companies to develop flexible employment policies for carers – said, “This makes it easier for employees to combine work and care, so they don’t feel forced to choose between one or the other.

“Recruiting and training new staff can be expensive and unnecessary when a more flexible employment approach should ensure that existing, experienced people are retained.”