Returning to work whilst caring for someone

Our guest blog is from Siobhan Goodchild, an experienced HR consultant.

Siobhan owns Face2FaceHR Camberley and provides practical and affordable HR advice to small businesses and charities.

Follow Siobhan on Twitter here.

Most organisations have opened back up in some shape or form and those that have remained open (with people working from home) will inevitably at some point, look to return workers to their physical workplace for at least some of the time.

This brings challenges for workers with caring responsibilities who either don’t have their usual support in place for caring whilst they attend work or who are worried about the increased risk of spreading the virus to those they are caring for, particularly if they are shielding.

Below are some of the main questions we saw from carers and my responses will offer some helpful information and practical tips on how to approach these challenges with employers.

I’m the sole carer for someone who is shielding and I’m worried about returning to work as my job involves a lot of contact with customers. What are my options?

The most obvious option is the furlough scheme, which can be used for anyone that is shielding or anybody that needs to stay at home with someone that is shielding. If you’re already on furlough, ask your employer to consider extending this for as long as possible. It’s worth noting that employers aren’t obliged to furlough anyone, so you should bear that in mind when making your request, but it would seem sensible that if they have already furloughed you, they continue to do this for as long as they can.

The furlough scheme is now closed to new entrants though, so if you were not already furloughed for a period of at least three weeks before the 10th June 2020, it won’t be possible to now be placed on furlough.

What if furlough is not an option?

If furlough is not an option, talk to your employer about whether there is any element of your work that could be done from home or perhaps there could be a temporary change to your duties that would allow you to work from home, for at least some of the time. Employers may be more open to this than they usually would, given the situation you are in.

You could offer to do this for a trial period and have regular reviews thereafter to see if it’s working, which may make your employer more willing to explore it.

It’s also worth talking to your employer about the safety precautions that they have put in place in the workplace which might alleviate some of your concerns about returning, if this is the only option. You can review the government guidelines here. Your employer should share the details of their risk assessment with you and the measures they have put in place to prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible.

It’s also important to talk to your employer about any ideas that you have around extra measures that could be put in place for you, to give you greater peace of mind.

If, none of the above are viable options for you, you may be entitled to one of the statutory unpaid leave entitlements such as ‘parental leave’ if caring for a child or ‘family and dependents’ leave if caring for another family member or dependent. Given the circumstances, many employers will also be open to granting a period of unpaid leave even if you do not qualify for any of these.

If you have some annual leave left for the year, consider using some of this and mixing it with unpaid leave to ease some of the financial burden i.e. using a few days a week of unpaid leave and a few days of annual leave for a period of time.

It's also worth checking your company policies, as some employers offer various forms of paid leave, above the statutory minimum.

I’m currently working and caring for someone and really need to reduce my hours?

All employees have the right to request flexible working after they have been employed with the same employer for 26 weeks. You should not have already made a flexible working request in the previous 12 months. However, I would expect in these circumstances that most reasonable employers would at least consider another request.

When making a flexible working request it’s important to think about the challenges that this might present to your employer and think about how these can be overcome. They will be far more open to accommodating your request if you can show in advance how the impact to the business will be minimised. Don’t be afraid to make suggestions yourself about how your work might be covered, what is a priority and what might be able to be put on hold for the short-term.

It’s also worth noting that if your flexible working request is approved, this will be a permanent change to your contract. If you’re only looking for a temporary reduction in hours, make this clear when you make the request so that it can be put in place on a temporary basis rather than a permanent one.

Communication is key

The final thing to say is that communication is key. Make sure you talk to your employer about the challenges that you face and what support you might need on a regular basis. You are far more likely to get their support if they know exactly what you need.

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