Equivalent of Parental Leave Needed for Carers of Adults
Published: 25 Nov 2016
By Janet Mearns, Disability Officer
When parents of disabled children ring Working Families’ helpline about getting time off work to support their children or just to be with them, I can tell them they can use Parental Leave. All right, you have to have been with your employer for a year, you can have to give 21 days’ notice and you only have 18 weeks to use before your child is 18, but there is the opportunity to take some unpaid time off in addition to your regular paid annual leave.
One day Susan* rang because her adult daughter, who has Down’s Syndrome, had major surgery planned. It was going to be in the school holidays when Susan didn’t work, but the hospital had rung. The surgery had been postponed Susan said:
“My daughter doesn’t understand about going into hospital. She’ll need my support. The staff don’t understand that she can’t do things like swallowing pills. Aren’t I, as a carer, entitled to time off work to be with her in hospital and to look after her while she convalesces? Her needs didn’t cease when she turned 18.”
Susan isn’t the only carer of an adult to contact Working Families. Commonly I hear, “I need to take my elderly mother to a hospital appointment” or “my husband is becoming increasingly confused. I need to take time off work when the social worker comes”, followed by “I love my job.” or “I need to work.”
Working Families is calling for an equivalent of Parental Leave for carers of adults – a right to time off work, in addition to emergency leave for dependants, for caring responsibilities. Even if this leave was unpaid initially, a new right to time off to balance caring and keeping a paid job would make a big difference to carers of adults.
There is a happy ending to Susan’s story. I advised her to explain the situation to her employer and to suggest that it would be a fair employment practice to allow her some time off in the same way her colleagues who were parents of under 18s could take time off. The employer gave her the time off. Her daughter coped well in hospital with her mother’s support and she has made a full recovery.
*not her real name