Career Clinic

Q: My parents are in their 80s, still in their own home and generally manage to live an independent life. I live two hours’ drive away, and to see them am forced to take annual leave. My colleagues seem to come and go as they please to look after their children without it affecting their holiday entitlement. I don’t feel I am being treated equally.

A: At the moment, we are all at the mercy of our employers’ policies and procedures on compassionate leave. In dire emergencies, the older people in our community can be cared for by their family without penalty – but even then there is often a debate about proportions. For example, an uncle dying equals one day’s leave for the funeral, unless he lived in the Hebrides so add on two days for travelling. But for, say, no blood relative at all but the next closest thing to mum that you could get, what would be allowed? It’s a bit of a lottery. Compassionate leave procedures also rarely take into account the care-giving involved when someone has a terminal illness and you don’t know how long you might need off or when.

Legislation on ongoing caring for children on the other hand, is tightly defined – to the extent that the age of the child dictates how much parental leave (paid or unpaid) can be taken, and when. However, because the legislation is difficult to track, the floodgates open and anything relating to one’s child care (sometimes even including school sports days, as I heard recently) tends to be counted.

By contrast, I’ve never come across a compassionate leave request form to take dad for his three-monthly check on his pacemaker, or to spend an afternoon with him while mum has some respite care. We are certainly not short of government initiatives recognising these needs to enable older people to remain independent for longer, but there’s some way to go before they become linked with employment practices.

In practice, time off can often be agreed with your manager but will not always be paid. A dialogue with your manager is therefore the best way to see whether there is any flexibility in your job.

Alison Sanger is a social care HR consultant

A: A couple of years ago, my dad had to have a hernia operation. Normally he looks after himself, but you’re not even supposed to lift a kettle for weeks after a hernia op, so he was obviously going to need some extra support.

Work was fine with me taking a couple of days off compassionate leave for his actual operation, but started to get really awkward when I wanted to take a few more half days over the following two weeks to help him at home when neighbours weren’t around. I was begrudgingly told I could take some half-days – but it would have to come from my holiday allowance.

Unhappy with this, I decided to do a bit of research into the law on “time off for dependents” and discovered that every employee is entitled to take “reasonable” time off to deal with emergencies (although not with long-term care arrangements) involving a dependent – including a parent. The bad news, though, is that your employer is not obliged to pay you for this.

So, make sure you work for a good employer!

Name and address withheld

13 September question

Q: I am just about to graduate as a qualified social worker and would like to work in an older people’s team. What advice would you give a newly qualified social worker about to start job-seeking and going to interviews?

We will answer this question in the 13 September issue of Community Care. We want to publish your advice: please send it to  

Do you have your own career dilemma? Send your comments or questions for consideration by our HR expert and your peers to

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