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The Carer’s Leave Act: Building caregiving into employee benefits

Discover how the Carer’s Leave Act is reshaping workplace dynamics, offering vital support for employees with care obligations.

The recent enforcement of the Carer’s Leave Act allows HR departments to create a more supportive and compassionate workplace for employees who have care obligations. Any employee has the legal right to take up to one working week of unpaid carers leave every year – to either give or arrange care for a dependant who has a disability, physical or mental illness/injury, or has care needs because of old age. The dependant doesn’t need to be a family member and can include anyone who relies on them for care.

This new legislation is a momentous step forward given the fact that one in five people are currently giving unpaid care or support to someone. It recognises the sacrifice and needs of unpaid carers.

A change in responsibility for unpaid care

Importantly, it encourages companies to prioritise supporting employees who need to care for dependents – either in the long term or at short notice. It also shifts responsibility onto businesses and their HR departments to implement the new policy effectively so that those who need leave for care can access it without facing negative consequences to their career.

Employers also need to understand that providing flexibility to employees who need to take care days is not only a legal obligation but also a vital aspect of maintaining a positive work environment. Employees who feel supported and valued are more likely to be engaged and motivated to perform their job responsibilities. Not only this, but offering flexible work arrangements can also lead to increased productivity and reduced turnover.

HR professionals, business leaders and managers need to prioritise the needs of carers and ensure that they have the necessary structures and support in place to help balance their personal and work responsibilities.

Setting up the right structures and support

As unpaid care leave becomes more widespread and with employees needing to communicate with employers to access their care days, HR departments play a vital role in educating and empowering employees to access their five days of leave each year.

This can be achieved through awareness campaigns where employees are proactively educated about their rights under the new legislation. Processes around accessing the benefit should be made clear through communication such as the distribution of informational resources through emails, intranet portals and employee handbooks.

They can also offer greater support by establishing networks within organisations. Peer groups, mentorship and access to external resources will help to provide emotional and practical support to caregivers.

Making the processes for requesting Carers’ Leave as straightforward as possible will benefit HR managers and employees alike. There should be clear guidelines, forms and a designated point of contact within HR to make the process seamless.

Line manager training will also help equip leaders to handle care leave requests sensitively. To ensure there is mutual benefit for employer and employee, line managers should be familiar with the legal framework, as well as empathetic towards those who need to provide care.

The issue of the gender gap in unpaid care

Unpaid care is an issue that affects individuals from all different backgrounds. However, research has found that women are disproportionately impacted by it, with nearly two-thirds (59%) of unpaid carers being women. The impact of unpaid care on women’s career and job prospects cannot be overlooked. Businesses and policy makers must place a greater emphasis on this issue and work towards creating a more equal workplace and society.

HR can advocate for flexible working arrangements that accommodate caregiving responsibilities, such as part-time hours, job sharing or remote work. Flexibility will empower women to continue working productively while fulfilling their care obligations.

Companies should strive to ensure that women are not left with gaps in their CVs or skills deficits due to care responsibilities by providing training and resources to bridge that gap. This will in turn help to tackle the stigma associated with caregiving by opening dialogues between employees and businesses, acknowledging that providing care is a huge challenge and creating an environment where everyone, including female caregivers, feels valued.

The bigger care picture – moving beyond the Act

More broadly, the UK care sector is facing a serious crisis – there is a shortage of experienced, skilled carers due to low wages and limited career progression opportunities. Many traditional care agencies are charging clients 25% more than the digital marketplace, while carers are taking home the minimum wage compared to earning £16.50 p/h.

While it’s clear that the situation demands urgent attention and action from the Government to ensure that high quality, affordable care is available to all those who need it in the UK, we can’t rely on this change happening in the immediate future.

With inefficiencies continuing in the care sector and as the population ages, we are going to see more people needing to support loved ones and this has clear implications for personal careers and, in turn, the talent market. It often forces individuals to step away from their jobs, sometimes for more than five days per year by taking holiday days or quitting completely to take on long-term caregiving roles.

A starting point for HR to build care into employee benefits 

So, this begs the question – will statutory support from the new Act go far enough? There will still be people who need to provide longer-term care and most likely suffer in their careers as a result.

Organisations can go further to support people with care duties by leveraging services that plug into employee benefits strategies, enabling access to experienced, affordable and on-demand care. This helps employees come back to work quicker, better supporting careers and maintaining productivity for companies.

The Carer’s Leave Act presents a great leap towards supporting and recognising the value of unpaid carers. However, it is just a first step for HR departments. HR departments need to be ushering in a new wave of policies to foster a culture of inclusivity, empathy and flexibility. This will ensure that no one must choose between caring for their loved ones and progressing in their career.

Employees have diverse needs that require employee benefits programmes to be diverse too. We can’t stay stuck in the past of just having cycle-to-work schemes and free gym memberships, HR leaders need to understand the vital professional care support needed for their employees and introduce it as part of a package for employees.

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