In Great Britain, there is not statutory right to take carer’s leave. However, other rights do exist for employees who need to make changes to their working patterns in order to look after someone.
The right to request flexible working has been available to employees who are also carers since 2007, enabling them to ask their employer for a change to their working hours, or the times that they work. There is no obligation to agree to a flexible working request and there are several prescribed reasons upon which a refusal can be valid. Therefore, if an employee were to make a flexible working request because of their caring needs, there is no automatic right for them to have this approved.
However, where the individual who is to be cared for has a disability, you would be well advised to proceed with caution, so it is very important that you clarify the employee’s situation in this regard. The Equality Act 2010 protects employees with certain protected characteristics, including disability. The scope of the Act is wide in that it offers protection to people who are associated with someone who has the protected characteristic – so-called associative discrimination – so a person who does not have a disability themselves can make a claim for disability discrimination. This is important to your situation because refusing a flexible working request in relation to caring for a disabled person could potentially be an act of disability discrimination.
This should not be confused with the “duty to make reasonable adjustments” for disabled employees – that specific obligation relates only to a disabled employee themselves. However, the risk of a straightforward claim of disability discrimination still remains.
If an employee’s working hours reduce subsequent to a flexible working arrangement, then it is likely that their performance targets may also need to be altered accordingly, however, so will their entitlement to certain benefits e.g. annual leave entitlement.
For further clarification on this issue, please call our Advice Service on 0844 892 2772