Supporting carers

If your employee is a carer, they are legally entitled to take ‘reasonable’ time off work to deal with an emergency affecting a dependant. Whether this is paid or not will depend on your organisation’s policy.

A dependant can be a spouse or partner, a child, a parent or grandparent, or someone who depends on your employee for care. Reasonable time off can be granted in different situations. For example, when:

  • your employee’s dependant is ill or injured
  • a dependant dies
  • your employee needs to arrange care for a dependant.

What represents a reasonable amount of time off depends on individual circumstances. Your employee should let you know as soon as possible why they need time off and how long they think they’ll be away for.

Legislation also allows carers to request flexible working. This includes working from home or changing hours. The employee has to meet certain criteria to present a request. Eligibility criteria include the age of the dependant and their relationship to your employee. Employees need to have worked for their company for 26 weeks before requesting flexible working. The employer can refuse to grant the request, but only on specified grounds.

Time off for carers

Emergency time off for dependants

Employed carers have the right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off work to deal with particular situations affecting their dependants. This right is covered by the amended Employments Rights Act 1996. In Northern Ireland these laws are called the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 and the Employment Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. Some organisations enhance this by providing paid time off for employees in these circumstances.

A dependant is defined as a spouse, civil partner, child or parent (but not grandparent) of the employee or a person who lives in the same household as the employee, excluding tenants, lodgers and employees. In addition, ‘dependant’ includes those who reasonably rely on the employee to provide assistance if they fall ill or to make arrangements for the provision of care.

An employee is only entitled to take time off for dependants under this statutory right where it is necessary for that person:

  • to provide assistance if a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured
  • to make longer-term care arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured. (This would include, for example, arranging to employ a temporary carer. It does not enable the employee to take additional or ongoing time off to care for the dependant themselves)
  • to deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant.

It should be noted that this doesn’t apply to planned time off to care for dependants, for example, to take them to a medical appointment.

What counts as a reasonable amount of time off will depend on the individual circumstances. The nature of the incident and the extent to which another person was available to assist are relevant factors, but not any potential disruption to the employer’s business. An employer should always take into account the employee’s individual circumstances. Decisions should always be based on the facts of each case.

Right to request flexible working

The Work and Families Act 2006 and the Employment Rights Act give employed carers the right to request flexible working, such as changed hours or working from home. There is no automatic right to actually work flexibly; the right is to make a request to do so. Employers can refuse a request, but only on specified grounds. Employees can appeal against such a refusal. If a request is granted, it will be a permanent change to the employee’s contract, unless agreed otherwise.

For the purposes of this legislation, the definition of a carer is someone who is, or expects to be, caring for a person aged 18 or over who is in need of care and who is either:

  • a spouse, partner or civil partner
  • a close relative, such as a parent, parent-in-law, adult child, sibling, sibling-in-law, uncle, aunt, grandparent or step-relative
  • any adoptive relation or someone who is living at the same address as the carer.

Employees must have worked for their employer for 26 weeks at the date an application is made. Flexible working also applies to parents as well as carers – and there may be an overlap, for example when a parent has a disabled child.

Supporting carers

Real examples of how people were supported by their employers when they were looking after someone with cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Supporting carers

Real examples of how people were supported by their employers when they were looking after someone with cancer.

About our cancer information videos

Supporting carers during bereavement

An employee that is caring for someone who is dying may start to need more time off. You may need to be flexible about this.

When the person they care for dies, they will need time off work to grieve and be with their family. This is sometimes known as compassionate leave.

If there are children who were close to the person who died, your employee will need to give them extra emotional support.

It may not always be easy to predict when they will be needed at home.

They may also need time off work to sort out practicalities, such as arranging the funeral and dealing with financial or legal matters.

This is obviously an emotional time. Some people won’t want to talk about their feelings at work, but it will help if you can provide an appropriate opportunity. We have more advice on talking about cancer. If your company provides counselling or an employee assistance programme (EAP), you should bring this to their attention.

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Policies and resources

If one of your employees has cancer or is caring for someone affected by cancer, we have information to help you support them.

Managing cancer in the workplace

In the UK, over 700,000 people of working age are living with cancer. Managers play a fundamental role in supporting employees affected by cancer.

How cancer affects people

Your employee’s ability to work may change after a cancer diagnosis. To support them, it’s helpful to understand how treatment may affect them.

How to talk about cancer at work

Although it may be difficult for your employee to discuss their cancer diagnosis, open communication may enable you to support them.

Time off for your employee

Some people with cancer will be able to continue to work, others will need time off. There are different options to manage absences.

Occupational health advice

Occupational health advisers can help employers assess whether a role needs to be adjusted in light of an employee’s health.

Legislation about work and cancer

In the UK, there are laws that protect employees with cancer from being treated unfairly in the workplace. This includes discrimination, harassment and victimisation.


Although many people survive cancer, your employee or the person they are caring for may die from their illness.