Your rights at work

Legislation protects the rights of carers at work. If you’re caring for someone, you’re entitled to request flexible working. This may enable you to work from home or organise new working hours for example. Flexible working arrangements can help you find a balance between work and caring responsibilities.

If you’ve been in employment for the last 26 weeks, you may request flexible working if the person you’re caring for is:

  • your wife/husband or partner
  • a child under 17
  • a near relative (parents, siblings, in-laws etc).

If your employer refuses, you can appeal the decision. The law also protects a carer’s right to take unpaid time off to look after someone in an emergency.

Legislation protects people who experience discrimination because they’re  linked or associated with a disabled person (cancer is classed as a disability). For example, it would be unlawful if a carer was refused promotion because of concerns that they would be unable to give sufficient attention to the job. Under the law carers are also protected against harassment and victimisation.

Several organisations can provide advice on your employment rights.

Flexible working

The Work and Families Act 2006, the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 give employed carers the right to request flexible working, such as changing hours or working from home. Where possible, flexible working can be arranged to maintain your normal income.

Requesting flexible working

To be eligible for flexible working, the person making the request must be caring for:

  • their husband, wife, partner or civil partner
  • a child under 17, or, if they receive Disability Living Allowance, a child under 18
  • a near relative – this includes parents, parents-in-law, adult children, adopted adult children, siblings, brothers- and sisters-in-law, uncles, aunts, grandparents, step-relatives or someone who lives at the same address as the carer (excluding tenants, lodgers and employees).

Eligible carers who have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks can apply to make a permanent or temporary change to their terms and conditions. Under this legislation, they can only make one request a year. However, more requests could be made outside of the legislation. An employer can refuse a request, but must give good reasons for doing so. If this happens, an employee can appeal the decision.

The right to request flexible working could make the difference between a carer leaving or staying at work.

Flexible working arrangements

Flexible working arrangements can make it easier for you to carry on working at the same time as caring for your relative or dependant. These arrangements could include:

  • working from home
  • flexible starting or finishing times
  • compressed working hours (where you work your normal number of hours in a shorter time, for example fitting a five-day working week into four days)
  • annualised working hours (this is where the amount of hours you are contracted for per month or year are worked in a flexible way)
  • job-sharing or working part-time
  • flexible holidays to fit in with alternative care arrangements.

If your employer refuses your request

Your employer can refuse a request for flexible working if it’s not in the best interests of the business. This might be if:

  • it would be too expensive
  • it may affect the quality or performance of the business
  • they cannot recruit additional required staff.

If your employer refuses your request, you can appeal their decision. Your appeal has to be made in writing within 14 days of their decision. There will be another meeting so that you can both discuss the request further. It can help to get advice and support from a union, work representative or the human resources department.

Your employer may not be able to accommodate your full request, but you may be able to compromise. For example, this might mean working from home for one or two days a week rather than full-time.

Parental leave

A parent of a child under 18 with cancer may also be entitled to up to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave to look after the child. Some employers may allow paid leave to be taken, and some allow longer than the official entitlement. You can read more about parental leave on the Directgov website at

Time off in an emergency

If you’re a carer in paid employment, you have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to look after dependants in an emergency. In England, Scotland and Wales, this is covered by the Employment Rights Act 1996, as amended by the Employment Relations Act 1999. It is known as time off for dependants or dependants’ leave.

In Northern Ireland, these laws are called the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 and the Employment Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1999.

A dependant could be:

  • a mother, father, son, daughter, spouse or civil partner
  • anyone who lives with you, other than a tenant, lodger, boarder or employee
  • someone who would reasonably rely on you to help them if they become ill or need you to make care arrangements for them.

Possible emergencies can include:

  • a breakdown in care arrangements
  • the person you care for becoming ill or having an accident
  • you needing to make longer-term care arrangements.

In each situation, this right applies from the start of a job. You don’t need to have been in the job for a specific length of time before you can take time off in an emergency. However, the law doesn’t define how much time you can take – it depends on the circumstances. To use this time off, you must inform your employer as soon as possible after the emergency has happened.

Emergency leave is usually unpaid unless your employer chooses to pay you.

Apart from this legal entitlement, your employer may have a policy or be open to discussing leave arrangements.

Some options could be:

  • carers’ leave (paid or unpaid)
  • compassionate leave
  • borrowing holiday days from next year or buying
  • additional days
  • career breaks and sabbaticals (usually unpaid).

Protection from discrimination

The Equality Act 2010 and Disability Discrimination Act 1995

As a carer, you’re protected from direct discrimination and harassment at work by the Equality Act in England, Scotland and Wales, and the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland. The Equality Act (England, Scotland and Wales only) also protects carers outside of work, such as when you shop for goods or services, and when you use public transport.

Direct discrimination occurs when you’re treated less favourably than somebody else because of your caring responsibilities.

For example, not being offered a job or being offered less favourable terms of employment because the person you are caring for has a disability. The act also protects people caring for someone with cancer outside of work when:

  • you’re discouraged from using a service
  • it has been made impossible for you to use a facility
  • you’re given a worse service than you would have received if you weren’t a carer.

Harassment is when you experience unwanted behaviour relating to disability, which makes you feel intimidated, degraded or offended. It’s against the law for you to be harassed at work, and when you buy goods or services when caring for a disabled person.

Victimisation is when you’re treated unfavourably because you’ve made a complaint about discrimination or harassment. This is covered under the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act, as long as you genuinely believe your original complaint to be true.

The Equality Act also provides protection for employees from discrimination because of their association with an individual who has cancer. For example, if you are unfairly treated because your mother has cancer, there is protection against this.

What to do if you believe your employer isn’t behaving in a reasonable or fair way

If you feel you can’t resolve matters to your satisfaction, you may want to consider lodging a formal grievance.

Your employer should have a grievance policy that sets out the steps you will need to follow if you want to make a grievance. A staff or union representative can give you further advice.

If you feel that your grievance is not being dealt with fairly, and that your employer is being unreasonable, you can get advice from:

  • a union representative if you have one
  • ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)
  • the Labour Relations Agency in Northern Ireland
  • a solicitor specialising in employment law.

If you still feel unhappy about your grievance, you can complain to an employment tribunal. They can help resolve employment disputes between employees and employers. But you should be aware that going to an employment tribunal can be a long and expensive process. Most complaints need to be received by the tribunal within three months of the issue you are complaining about.

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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.