Recognising and supporting unpaid carers in the workplace is gaining momentum. With the recent implementation of the Carer’s Leave Act on 6th April, people looking after family dependents due to disability, illness or old age for a period of three months or more became entitled to a week’s unpaid leave per year. Additionally, there is growing political support for recognising caring as the tenth protected characteristic, which would afford direct protection under equalities law.

The Carer’s Leave Act presents an opportunity for companies to review and enhance their support for carers, especially as more individuals are likely to disclose their caring responsibilities in the light of the change in legislation. So, what are the realities faced by working carers?

Here are just a few stats that illustrate the current situation for carers:

  • It takes an average of two years for someone to realise they are a carer[1]
  • Around 25% of the workforce has caring responsibilities, often unrecognised[2]
  • In the absence of a supportive “care culture,” employees worry that admitting to caregiving responsibilities penalizes their career growth[3]
  • Women are 50% more likely to be carers[4]
  • In the UK, 75% of working carers struggle to balance work and care, leading to 600 leaving their jobs daily[5]

Putting together a comprehensive carer’s policy is essential to address these challenges and underpin a culture of supporting carers to make sure they can manage all their responsibilities successfully. Well-supported carers experience a sense of belonging, the ability to fulfil their potential, and are likely to stay at your businesses for longer than other colleagues.

A significant proportion of people are looking after both children and parents – so-called ‘sandwich carers’ – and the 40-55 age range for this group is likely to be achieving seniority in their career and be valuable to your organisation.

While compliance with the new leave entitlement is essential, having an overarching policy enables clarity around support available to both current and potential employees. A robust policy also empowers supervisors and managers to provide consistent support to colleagues navigating their caring responsibilities. Here are seven steps to follow to get that robust policy in place.

  1. Review existing policies: Assess existing policies outlining support or benefits for employees in various circumstances, such as sickness, bereavement, parenting, or holidays. Compare your policies with statutory entitlements to help with alignment.
  2. Resource assessment: Consider the financial and time implications of new approaches. Engage in discussions at the leadership level to underscore the organisation’s commitment to making resources available for supporting carers.
  3. Non-financial support: Embrace DEI (Diversity, equity and inclusion) practices by facilitating carers’ networks, offering mentoring and career coaching, and promoting flexible working arrangements to help prevent burnout.
  4. Benefits equality: Ensure that your benefits package caters to diverse needs within the workforce, addressing potential disparities. Evaluate the impact of your spend on different groups with the aim of avoiding scenarios where any one group may feel less than valued than others.
  5. Include Carers in Benefits spend: Explore carer-specific products to include in employee benefit packages. Anticipate the increased demand for carer support and ensure existing benefits are carer-friendly upon renewal.
  6. Carer’s Leave Act compliance: Ensure policy compliance by at least meeting these key points:
  • Facilitating a minimum of 5 days unpaid leave (could also be more than 5 days or paid)
  • In line with other employment law, employees should give notice which is double the length of the leave being requested
  • Employers need to ensure that asserting this right doesn’t lead to discrimination. This can be achieved in a number of ways, including:
    • Not recording carer’s leave taken on a permanent record
    • Ensuring carer’s leave is not taken into consideration in performance reviews and internal recruitment
    • Adjusting any productivity targets for the year to allow for carer’s leave taken
  1. Policy implementation: Outline key elements in the new Carers Policy, including definitions, carer’s leave provisions, flexible working arrangements, and additional support measures like networking and mentoring. Include clear processes/forms for participation in carer’s leave and related activities.

Ensure supervisors and managers are well-versed in the policy, offering training through various channels like intranet resources, lunch and learn sessions, or e-learning modules.

Celebrating the organisation’s commitment to carers is key to having the impact you hope for. Publicise the efforts through recruitment materials, websites, and industry publications to make clear the value placed on supporting carers.

How are organisations ensuring parity of experience, and pursuing fairness for all employees?

With carer’s leave becoming the latest workplace entitlement, how do you balance your budgets with the need to attract and retain talent, and demonstrate a commitment to DEI?

One approach might be to provide all entitlements at full-pay, including sick leave, parental leave, carer’s leave etc. Another might be to focus on generous annual leave and pension entitlements that can be enjoyed by all employees.

I was fortunate enough to talk with an HR professional recently whose workplace have taken the step of removing all absence policies and supporting each person on an individual basis. Of course they comply with statutory requirements as a minimum, but they negotiate fully-paid time off in line with both the individual and business needs. It would be interesting to discover whether an approach like this would work in companies of different sizes and complexities.

Another model that comes to mind is where every employee has a percentage of their salary as a notionally-available budget to top up statutory pay when they need it. So, in a mixed team one person might enjoy parental leave on full pay, while another uses this when they are off sick to top up SSP (Statutory Sick Pay). A carer would have their week, or more, of leave on full pay if they haven’t used this allowance for another purpose.

With the likelihood of increasing regulation around DEI, such as the FCA proposals for Financial Services, employers will need to consider how they can offer personalised support which is also fair and inclusive. The introduction of the Carer’s Leave Act is just the starting point. Creating a carers policy that clearly sets out your approach that is understood and embraced by the whole organisation will mean working carers get the support they need.


[1] Carers UK

[2] Carers UK

[3] Harvard Business School

[4] ONS Census 2021

[5] Carers UK

Aaron Dryden
Aaron Dryden
Carer Experience Lead at Yurtle | + posts

Aaron Dryden is Carer Experience Lead at Yurtle, an Insuretech company dedicated to addressing burnout for working carers. Over the last 20+ years he has worked in various disability and carers charities, including latterly at Carers UK where he gave evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee on caring. He also holds postgrad governance qualifications, with an interest in HR and culture.