Your rights at work
If you are employed, you have statutory rights as a carer. These include parental leave, emergency leave and the right to request flexible working once you have worked for a company for more than 26 weeks.
Your company may have more generous provisions so as well as your statutory rights, check your contract. If you work for a large organisation, then HR (Human Resources) will be a good place to have an initial discussion about your needs.
Joining a Union or Professional Association is a good idea. Having an alternative source of information and a large organisation with resources to support you is reassuring.
Juggling work and home
Work can sometimes feel like a relief. It helps maintain a routine, stops isolation and of course, puts food on the table. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. However, if going to work feels like you are abandoning the care to your partner, or you are worried about what you’ll come home to at the end of the day, life can become incredibly stressful.
It’s essential to get the balance right without forgetting that you also need time when you are neither caring or working or your own health – both physical and mental – will start to suffer.
Keep a diary of your sleep, work, caring and genuine time ‘off’ for a week and see whether you are getting any kind of balance. If it’s looking unsustainable, look at flexible working, reducing hours or taking some emergency leave.
National Insurance and Pensions
If you have to stop work, reduce your hours or find yourself faced with redundancy – either volunatarily or through no choice of your own, then it’s important to check how this might impact you in the future. Your National Insurance contributions ultimately ensure you will receive your state pension. If you are caring, then either Carers Allowance or Carer’s Credit will make sure that your National Insurance contributions are made but your state pension is unlikely to be enough to live on.
Depending on your employer or the type of pension you have contributed to, you may be able to retire early or take ill-health retirement if that is your case. Check your pension documentation. If you do stop work, then this will inevitably stop your pension contributions through employment and thus reduce provision for you in later life. The Pensions Advisory Service is independent and can give impartial advice.
Be aware that Carer’s Credit or Allowance only pay Class 2 National Insurance. This means that if you want to return to work after a period of caring and have been unemployed, you will not be entitled to contributions based Jobseekers Allowance.
Knowing your rights and being able to assert them are two totally different things. I work for a small company – if I’m not there, my work doesn’t get done and that puts everyone behind.