Mark knows first-hand how difficult it can be having a job alongside caring for someone with dementia. Here Mark shares his tips on knowing your legal rights within the workplace.
My name is Mark. I’m 51 years’ of age and I’ve worked as a solicitor for 25 years. I’m also a carer for my 83 year old mother who has Alzheimer’s disease.
Finding the right balance between these two roles can be a real challenge, because being in employment and being a carer can often feel like having two full time jobs.
There are literally millions of people in the country who are in this position and who are forced to spread themselves (too) thinly.
Unless you’ve had to do it yourself, it is unlikely you will know how challenging and stressful it can be.
No matter how well you might think you are coping, eventually your physical and mental wellbeing will start to suffer, which is no good for you or the person you are caring for.
I thought it might be useful if I shared my own experience of what it is like to juggle a job whilst being a carer, and what your legal rights are.
Mark's top tips about knowing your rights as a carer in the workplace
1. Talk with your employer about flexible working
It is important to know that as a carer you have certain statutory rights. These are in addition to any contractual ones you might also have with your employer.
Providing you have worked for your employer for at least six months, you have the right to ask your employer to work flexibly (providing you have not already made a request within the last 12 months).
Your situation might be helped by requesting flexible working arrangements such as flexi-hours, working part-time or working from home.
I'd recommend setting out in writing what it is you are proposing. Outline how this could impact on your employer’s business and how that could be dealt with. Your employer can only refuse you if they have a good business reason for rejecting your request.
Once you've put your request in writing, ask for a meeting with your manager or supervisor to discuss matters further.
I had to go part time a couple of years back, with the option to work from home if things aren’t going well. I don’t have to work from home very often, but just knowing it’s there is a godsend.
2. Establish what will happen in case of emergencies
As a carer you will frequently be faced with unexpected emergencies, which inevitably come at the worst possible time.
In the past, common emergencies for me related to unexpected care issues relating to my mum, or if she was having a bad day and had had a fall. (In addition to Alzheimer’s, my mum also has arthritis and epilepsy. We never really know what each day has in store for us.)
It’s a comfort to know I have the legal right to take a reasonable amount of time off work in the event of an emergency.
3. Check your employee handbook
The bad news is, unless your employers are willing to exercise their discretion and pay you for your time off work, you have no legal right to be paid (unless you have a contractual right which states otherwise – I'd recommend checking your contract of employment or staff handbook).
Quite often your contractual rights will be more generous than your statutory rights, particularly if you are a long-serving employee.
The carers I know are usually reluctant to invoke their rights as stated above; they fear prejudicing their position at work and their career generally.
But it’s worth remembering the protection we all have under the important Equality Act 2010. In a nutshell, carers looking after an elderly or disabled relative or friend are protected under the Equality Act from being harassed or discriminated at work because of their caring role.
4. Speak to the experts
Employment rights can be a minefield. There is nothing worse than being torn between a loved one you are caring for and trying to keep your job going.
So don’t forget, if you don’t know what to do for the best, then it’s likely someone else will.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help; I had to.
The obvious starting point for people like us is the Alzheimer’s Society who are always pleased to help, and will point you in the right direction. And they will always deal with your enquiry in total confidence. Likewise other organisations like Carers UK.
If things are getting really uncomfortable for you at work then give ACAS a try – it stands for the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.
ACAS provide information, advice, training, conciliation and other services for employers and employees to help prevent or resolve workplace problems. Their employment experts will advise you free of charge and in total confidence.
Always remember there is no reason to feel bad about the situation you find yourself in through no fault of your own.
The law is there to protect us all, so we don’t have to choose between our job and our loved one.
None of us are perfect – we’re all trying our best under very difficult circumstances, so remember - you’re doing a great job.