Dealing with Long-Covid – a guide to employers - Part 5 of 5

Scenario 5: Employee becomes carer for relative with long COVID

Jen’s husband has contracted coronavirus and has been seriously ill with Long-Covid since then. Jen works full time, but has been struggling to balance her work activities with her caring responsibilities.

What should the employer do?

Under the ‘Absence Management Policy’ there are number of procedures for time off work that can be explored.

Employees do not currently have a statutory right to time off to provide care for a sick or disabled family member. There is a right to a reasonable amount of time off to arrange for the care of a dependant when the care arrangements already in place are unexpectedly disrupted. However, this leave is unpaid and appears to not be applicable in Jen’s case. 

It may be that Jen would consider making a flexible working request to help her balance her commitments. This obviously depends on Jen’s role. However, it could provide flexibility for Jen to work from home and aid her husband - or even a move to part-time working. The employer should certainly try to accommodate any such request if possible.

Under the statutory right to request flexible working the employer can turn down a request if it has a valid business reason for doing so, but a more important issue for the employer is the potential for an indirect sex discrimination claim. 

It is likely that women are far more likely than men to have to strike a balance between their work commitments and caring responsibilities - even when those responsibilities are for dependant adults rather than children. A failure to make any allowance for employees making such a request could therefore amount to indirect discrimination if the employer was unable to show that the refusal was a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim - a much higher threshold of reasonableness than is provided for in the statutory right to request flexible working.

Compassionate leave

Another option is to consider a period of compassionate leave to allow Jen to concentrate on caring for her partner for a period of time. There is no legal entitlement to such leave, although some employers do provide for it in their contracts of employment. The employer could also agree to accept a certain level of absence from Jen for the period that her husband is ill. Such flexibility may help the employer retain Jen’s service by allowing her to remain in her role rather than choose to leave work alto

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