Carers given legal right to request flexible working

The UK Government has this week given a boost to carers of adults who also hold down jobs by granting them a legal right to request flexible working arrangements.

It is estimated that one in eight people working in Wales are also looking after a disabled or chronically sick friend or relative.

Under the new rules, any employee who fits the Government’s definition of a carer can ask their employer to consider changing the way they work to fit around their caring commitments.

Flexible working includes a wide variety of working patterns, including compressed hours, flexi-time, home working, job-sharing, staggered hours and term-time working.

This change to the Work and Families Act follows on from a 2003 decision to give the right to request flexible work to parents of children under six (or under 18 for a disabled child).
47% of new mothers now work flexi-time, compared to 17% in 2002, and almost triple the number of new fathers now working flexibly.
Employment relations minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: “The government understands how difficult it can be for people to balance their work with caring for someone who is sick or disabled.

“We want to make sure that as many carers as possible have the right to request flexible working, while at the same time not placing an unnecessary burden on business.

“We consulted with business, unions and carers’ groups about the definition of which carers will be covered by the legislation.

“We have decided to go with the option that best balances the views of these groups and will cover around 80% of carers.”

Some critics say the legislation does not go far enough. Employees can now request flexible working, but there is no compulsion on their bosses to say yes.

Hannah Reed of the TUC said: “As the law stands, even if an employee claims that their request has been turned down unfairly, an industrial tribunal is barred from probing the business reason.

“These rights need to be strengthened – an employer should have to give a good reason for why they turn down a request and if necessary a tribunal should be convened.”