This section aims to provide you with tips and ideas on the simple things you can do to identify, support, and retain experienced and skilled staff within your business.
Planning ahead for this is not only good business practice but, being an employer who values and supports employees, will also increase staff retention, loyalty, and output.


2.1. Introduction

Whatever the size of your business you are likely to have employees who are juggling working full or part-time and caring for a family member or friend who has a health condition or disability. It’s likely that 10% of your male employees and 14% of your female employees will be in this position.

Not all carers care for long periods of time – some carers may need support to provide specific care within a given time period. Many people may not consider themselves as carers but think of themselves first as husbands, wives, partners, daughters, sons, siblings, or friends.

This section aims to provide you with tips and ideas on the simple things you can do to identify, support, and retain experienced and skilled staff within your business. The number of staff you employ who also have a caring role is certainly going to grow as people live longer.

Current estimates are that the number of unpaid carers will reach 9 million in the UK by 2037. That’s up from the current number of 6 million today. Planning ahead for this is not only good business practice but, being an employer who values and supports employees, will also increase staff retention, loyalty, and output.

Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just as an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.”

– Anne M. Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox

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2.2. Minimum Entitlements for Employees in the UK

Employees have minimum entitlements under the law in the UK including minimum entitlements for leave, a notice of termination, or national minimum wage. Employers are free to develop policies and give greater rights to their employees in their contracts than they have to give under the law, but they must not provide less. In this section, we will only outline the legislation that specifically relates to unpaid carers.

Good communication and well-informed staff are key elements of building an engaged and motivated workforce. Having good policies on paper and not knowing throughout the workplace will not benefit employees. Sharing information helps strengthen employees’ commitment to the organization, because they are more likely to feel secure, valued, and supported. Smart employers do not just develop their own policies, but make sure that they put them in place; they regularly state and promote statutory employee rights and entitlements to employees.

To promote employee rights and entitlements employers can use several methods from staff induction processes, payslip messages, staff noticeboards in communal areas, internal communication channels (e.g. intranet, newsletter) to supervisions and team meetings.

Employers should ensure that their line managers have basic knowledge about entitlements and are aware of where to find policies. Line managers play a crucial role in communicating these messages to other employees and across departments. Well-trained line managers can also ensure that your organization provides continuity and a consistent approach when a manager leaves and is replaced by someone new.

All employees in the UK have a:

  • Legal right to request flexible working if the employee has worked continuously for the same employer for 26 weeks.
  • Legal right to take unpaid parental leave for both men and women if the employee has worked for the employer for a least one year.
  • Legal right to reasonable time off to look after dependants in an emergency (applies from the day the employee starts work).
  • Protection from discrimination.
  • Legal right to request a Carer’s Assessment from their Local Authority.
  • Legal right to join (or not to join) a Trade Union.

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2.3. How can Employers Support Carers?

Employers who take a proactive approach and encourage flexibility can create a culture of trust, better employee engagement, reduce absenteeism and recruitment costs. Small changes made at work can help employees with a caring role and increase staff loyalty, productivity, and performance.

Many of the ideas below come from businesses that are already providing best practices in supporting working carers.

TIPS for Employers:

Identify carers:

  • Establish and maintain a system to enable carers to identify themselves if they choose to.

Revisit your actions:

  • Organize regular consultations with carers and review your policies and procedures.

Provide practical support:

  • Introduce flexible working practices such as flexitime, home working, annualized hours, compressed hours, shift swapping, self-rostering, staggered hours, job sharing, term-time working, part-time working, and flexible holidays.
  • Develop a specific Carers’ Policy.
  • Introduce additional support for carers e.g. Carers’ Leave (extra paid or unpaid leave), access to a private telephone or use of mobile, car parking close to the workplace.
  • Introduce a voluntary Carer Passport/Carer Register to make sure employees with a caring role holds a record and have an automatic entitlement that stays with them regardless of whether their role changes, they move departments, or have a new line manager.
  • Encourage employees with a caring role to form an in-house informal peer support network.
  • Introduce an employee assistance scheme e.g. access to counseling, legal advice.

Create good communication and trust within the organization:

  • Promote your existing and relevant policies to all employees.
  • Give line managers autonomy on managing carers within their team.
  • Make sure your line managers undertake carer awareness training or have completed an eLearning Carer Awareness course.

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2.4. Identifying Carers

Many carers don’t identify themselves as a carer. They can feel that the role they take on is a natural one and everyone would do the same for their loved ones.

Employers should take a proactive approach to help employees to identify themselves as carers and establish effective employment support. Having a well-established, early identification process in your workforce can minimize difficulties at work or longer-term impacts (e.g. absenteeism). Sometimes simple changes can help carers to feel supported and to balance their caring role alongside their paid work. Depending on the size and the structure of your business you can choose different ways to make sure you support the self-identity of carers.

TIPS for Employers:

  • Make sure there is clarity around what is meant by the term ‘carer’ within your workforce.
  • Establish and maintain a system to enable carers to identify themselves if they choose to. Remember people can become a carer overnight so ask the question regularly.
  • Introduce a question around caring into application forms, staff induction, employee surveys, or questionnaires.
  • Provide regular opportunities for employees to tell you if they have a caring role or changing circumstances (e.g. supervisions, appraisals, return to work interviews).
  • Introduce a voluntary Carer Passport/Carer Register.
  • Develop a specific Carers’ Policy, preferably in consultation with employees.
  • Consult with staff on the development and reviews of this policy.
  • Make sure that existing and relevant policies are communicated to all employees.
  • Make sure information is available and well promoted and there is knowledge of the minimum statutory employment rights for employees and working carers within your workforce.
  • Signpost employees with a caring role to external support organizations such as the local carer center.
  • Encourage employees with a caring role to form an informal peer support network.
  • Train your Line Management by providing carer awareness training, your local carer center may be able to help.

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2.5. How to Ask Sensitive Questions?

‘Do you have Caring Responsibilities?’

Previously we have talked about the importance of having an early identification process in your workplace which helps employees to identify themselves as carers. We also gave you some tips on how you can establish an effective system that allows carers to feel comfortable enough to do this.

People can find themselves in a situation where their circumstances change quickly and they can become carers whilst they are already working for you. Therefore, it is important to ask sensitive questions regularly and to create an environment where employees feel that they are able to share information. The sharing of information ensures that you know your employees and that you can offer them support. Designing appropriate forms or questionnaires to use with your employees can help you to gather personal information.

Sensitive questions can often make people feel uneasy and they may be reluctant to answer them truthfully because they feel uncomfortable about sharing personal information. An employee may not wish to answer these questions at all but it is still important for you, as an employer, to create an ethos that promotes information sharing.

You shouldn’t assume people will be willing to answer questions such as ‘do you have caring responsibilities?’ when they have their first contact with you, for example when they complete a job application form. In fact, people will tend to answer these types of questions in a way that minimizes their caring responsibilities as they may worry about it affecting an offer of employment.

The good news is you can create a positive environment where employees feel understood and supported. They are more likely to come forward and share their personal circumstances with you if you offer them time and space in staff surveys, questionnaires, back-to-work interviews, and supervisions. It is important to make it clear on forms, questionnaires, or in person, the reason you are collecting personal information. Furthermore, it is useful for an employee to understand what it will be used for, how you will record it, and who will be made aware of it.

You should always reassure employees that they don’t have to respond to sensitive questions if they feel uncomfortable about it and any information they do wish to share will be kept in strict confidence in line with the Data Protection Act 1998. Personal information is best collected through paper or online forms, as this helps to ensure confidentiality. However, sometimes it may be appropriate to ask these questions in person, during a supervision or appraisal for example. The information that comes from discussions had in supervision should also be recorded and signed by the employee.

You should aim to make it clear to employees that you have a commitment to understanding their needs as carers. As an employer, it is important that you communicate to your staff that the information they share will help you to make more informed decisions and offer better practices and services for carers within your organization.

EXAMPLE to use in your forms or questionnaires

Do you have caring responsibilities? If yes, please tick that apply:

  • None
  • Primary Carer
  • Secondary carer (another person carries out the main caring role)
  • Prefer not to say

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2.6. Flexible Working Options

Flexible working can be any type of working pattern which is different from the existing one and employer and employee should think together creatively about how the change could work for both parties.

Part-time Work: Part-time work is when employees are contracted to work anything less than full-time hours. It is the most common type of flexible working.

Changing Working Hour: It can be any changes in the employee’s working pattern, for example, changing the weekend hours to weekday hours or changing working hours to fit in with, for example, school hours, college hours, or care arrangements.

Compressed Hours: Compressed hours mean working the employee’s usual hours in fewer days of work. The fewer, but longer working blocks during the week release some more days for the employee.

Staggered Hours: This allows the employee to start and finish at different times from other workers.

Annualized Hours: This means that working time is organized around the number of hours to be worked over a year rather than over a week. Annualized hours work best when there is a rise and fall in workload during the year.

Flexi-time: Allows employees to choose, within certain set limits, when to begin and end work within agreed core times.

Home Working or Teleworking: Allows employees to regularly work from home and maintain contacts with employers, teams, and clients from home. Jobs also can be relocated to places where it is more attractive, more convenient, or reduce costs.

Job-sharing: It is a form of part-time working where two (or occasionally more) people share the responsibility for a job between them.

Self-rostering: This is most often found in hospitals and care services. Employees put forward the times they would like to work. Once staff levels and skills are worked out, the shift pattern is drawn up matching the employees’ preferences as closely as possible.

Shift Working: The employee works set hours but within a 24 hour period replacing another employee who is doing the same job.

Time Off in Lieu: Some employers give their employees time off instead of paying for overtime. This is known as ‘time off in lieu’. The terms (e.g. when it can be taken) are agreed upon between employee and employer.

Term-time Work: The employee doesn’t work during the school holidays, but remains on a permanent contract. The planned non-working periods are the combination of annual leave and unpaid leave.

Temporary Working and Fixed-term Contracts: A temporary worker is someone employed for a limited period and whose job is usually expected by both sides to last for only a short time. Temporary workers may be employed directly by the employer or by private agencies. Agencies will recruit, select and sometimes train temporary workers and hire them out to employers.

Career Breaks: Career breaks or sabbaticals are extended periods of leave. Normally unpaid and the contract remains valid.

Commissioned Outcomes: This means no fixed hours, but only an output target that an individual is working towards.

Phased Retirement: Phased retirement gives more flexibility to employees on how and when they want to retire. This means for example that they can reduce their hours and work part-time or carry on working.

Allocated Days for Hospital Appointments: A number of days are allocated to all staff e.g. 5 days within a financial year for hospital appointments for dependants. Each staff decides how they want to use it.

Variable Hours: The employee has no fixed working hours and patterns.

REFERENCES: ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) available at:; GOV.UK available at:; Citizen Advice available at:

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2.7. Carers' Policy – Template

This template has been created to support employers who wish to put in place a Carers’ Policy to support employees with a caring role in their workforce. We know that the needs of employers are varied so the template below provides best practice options.

You can use this template as a menu and choose and adapt supportive and helpful practices to suit your organisation and your policies and procedures.

As an employer you can be more flexible than the law says, so for example, you could allow an employee to be eligible to make a flexible working request before they have completed 26 weeks of employment.

Carers Policy Best Practice Template

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2.8. Carer Friendly Employer Self-Assessment Form – Template

This Carer Friendly Employer Self-Assessment questionnaire is meant to identify and recognize the good practice as much as to help to identify and address issues.

The questionnaire can encourage HR professionals to think through which areas of practice are particularly important for carers and help them to analyze the strengths and weaknesses to have a comprehensive picture of their ‘carer-friendly’ practice.

This tool will ask a series of simple questions to identify where you can make improvements and support employees with caring responsibilities. It will not take longer than 10-15 minutes and should be completed by an HR staff member within your organization. To repeat the self-assessment every couple of years would enable your organization to measure the progress and development efforts.

The self-assessment form covers five areas; Identification of Carers, Policy, Workplace Support, Communication, Awareness Raising and Training, and Peer Support.

Carer Friendly Employer Self-Assessment

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Front-line Managers’ Advisory Booklet – ACAS Workers with Care Responsibilities – EurWORK Case Studies
Carers Policy Best Practice Template