Talking about your caring responsibilities at work

You may not wish to talk to your employer or colleagues about your caring responsibilities. However, if they know what’s happening, it can help them support you. For example, it could be easier for you to request time off or flexible working.. It’s also a good idea to find out about your company’s policy for supporting carers.

At first, you should discuss your situation with your manager. During this initial conversation, your employer will want to find out if your caring duties will interfere with your work. You should use this opportunity to think about possible work arrangements.

Many employers support carers in various ways. They can also provide you information about:

  • sick leave and sick pay
  • company benefits
  • flexible working and work adjustments.

Not all companies offer the same support but they should signpost you to other sources of information.

Changes to the agreement you’ve made with your employer will need to be discussed. It can be helpful to decide who should be your main contact at work in case your situation changes.

What to say at work about your caring responsibilities

It’s up to you whether you say anything at work about your caring responsibilities - you don’t have to tell your employer or your colleagues. However, they’re unlikely to be able to give you the support and understanding you need if they don’t know what’s happening.

There are times when it can help if your employer or colleagues know a little about what is happening. For example, if you want to make a flexible working request, your employer will need more details.

You’re likely to need to plan some of your time around the needs of the person you’re caring for, which can be difficult and unpredictable. It can be helpful to talk to your employer about your commitments and concerns.

It may be a good idea to find out more about your employer’s policy for supporting carers before you talk to them about your situation. You can do this by checking your contract, reading your employee handbook or looking at your company’s intranet. You may then wish to talk to your line manager, human resources department, or staff or union representative about what your statutory entitlements are and what other support is available to you from the organisation.

Talking to your employer – the initial discussion

If you decide to talk to your employer, the first step is to have a discussion with your manager to tell them about your caring responsibilities.

Your manager should be sensitive to the fact that you’re coping with a cancer diagnosis. It can be a very difficult time and often turns lives upside down. They should allow you to explain the situation in your own way.

You can request that a colleague, friend, trade union or employee representative attends the meeting with you. Anyone attending the meeting should respect your privacy and the confidentiality of what is being discussed.

Your manager may choose to make notes at the meeting. If they do, and you would like a copy of them, ask your manager. They should not share the notes with anyone else without your permission. You may also want to make your own notes.

Typically, this first discussion may cover topics such as:

  • your reaction to becoming a working carer and, in particular, any immediate work issues or concerns
  • who knows about your situation, who you would like to know, and who needs to know
  • whether, and how, you would like other managers and colleagues to be told, and what you would like to be said.

Your employer will want to get some idea of the likely impact of your caring responsibilities on your ability to attend work and fulfill your work duties. It will help to be prepared to talk about this in general terms. You may need to explain to the employer that cancer treatment doesn’t always follow a smooth course and that last-minute changes may happen.

At this initial stage, you should begin to think about ways of doing your job that will suit both you and your employer.

The company will want to hear your thoughts about:

  • the likely impact that being a carer will have on you personally – and your ability to do your job – in the short-, medium- and long-term
  • how you think you will manage your work commitments while you are a carer.

If the company has a policy of no private internet use, you may want to discuss this at the meeting. For example, you might need to email the hospital or other people who care for the person with cancer during work hours. You may also want to talk about the possibility of accessing a private place to make and receive phone calls.

Your employer will be trying to balance the following things:

  • Work and time off. Cancer treatment doesn’t always go exactly to plan. Your plans will constantly change as you know more about the situation, and as treatment progresses.
  • Company policies and procedures regarding carers (where they exist), and your specific needs as an employee. If your employer doesn’t have procedures in place for carers, your manager may find the situation difficult as they may have to make decisions without guidance. They may benefit from ordering our Work and cancer toolkit, which contains information for both employers and employees. If there are already procedures in place at your place of work, you employer may need to apply them flexibly. The human resources department should also be aware of your legal rights as a carer, including flexible working, time off and emergency leave.
  • How much you want your other managers and colleagues to know about the situation, and how your manager can work with you to tell them.
  • The workload of your team. If you will need to have regular time off to carry out your carer responsibilities, this is likely to impact the rest of the team.

How your employer can support you

You may want to discuss things your employer can do to help you as a carer. Many employers support carers in a variety of ways. Take time to think about what you will need to change to help you in your roles as a carer and an employee.

Some employers may offer:

  • a buddy or mentor
  • access to a private telephone so that you can call the person you are caring for
  • a reserved car parking space to make getting in and out of work quicker and easier.

As well as talking to your line manager or human resources department, you may:

  • be able to talk to a welfare rights officer, occupational health adviser, union representative or employee assistance programme (EAP) counsellor – all of these people will offer understanding and support
  • be put in touch with local support and networking groups.

Information from your employer

Your employer will probably take this opportunity to provide you with the company’s information on:

  • sick leave, sick pay, absence and leave policies (including emergency leave) and the associated remuneration and salary policies
  • any relevant company benefits
  • flexible working and work adjustment policies.

It’s important to remember that not all companies will offer the same benefits. It may be that your employer will not be able to accommodate your requests for flexibility or changes to the way you carry out your role. The person you are caring for may also be given different information by their employer.

However, all companies should give their employees information about their statutory rights. They should also be able to signpost you to further sources of information about:

  • relevant statutory benefits
  • how to talk to your colleagues about cancer and the challenges of being a carer
  • specialist organisations, such as Macmillan, and relevant charity helplines and websites, such as Carers UK
  • counselling services that may be available to you as an employee.

We also have guidelines for employers.

After the initial meeting

Following this meeting, you can ask for a copy of any notes that have been taken, and make it clear whether you want anyone else in the company to see them. The company should respect your right to privacy, as should all those involved in the first meeting.

If, later on, you feel you need to discuss and agree on the points raised in the first meeting, you should ask for another meeting. Regular reviews are then helpful to check how arrangements are working, and to ensure you’re receiving enough support.

Any changes to the initial plan should be discussed and agreed as needed. It can also help to make the following clear:

  • Who your main contact in the company will be in case your situation suddenly changes (and a secondary contact if the main contact isn’t available).
  • Whether you would prefer someone else to tell your work colleagues about your situation. Your employer can arrange for this to be carried out in a sensitive manner. Ideally, this will be by someone who has a good understanding of cancer and the effects of treatment on both the person with cancer and the carer. It should also be someone who is able to deal with the reactions of those being told.

Talking to colleagues

Colleagues can often be supportive, and sometimes just having someone to talk to can be a real help. You may discover that other employees in the organisation are also carers. It can be useful to share your experiences and the challenges of working while caring.

Back to If you're a carer

Your rights at work

It's important to be aware of your legal rights in the workplace. Your human resources department may be able to help you.

Making decisions about work

If you’re a carer you may want to stop working temporarily or completely. It’s important to consider the implications of your decision.