Navigating carer’s leave: A personal journey and call for change

A guest post by Justina Omotayo, senior inclusion, equity and diversity manager at City law firm Fieldfisher

Omotayo: Paid leave is the vital next step

The Carer’s Leave Act 2023, which came into force on 6 April 2024, was a pivotal moment for the UK. It allows workers to take up to five unpaid days off a year to carry out caring responsibilities.

This landmark legislation marks a significant step forward in recognising the invaluable contributions of carers in our society and their ability to stay in employment. But while it represents a commendable starting point, it’s imperative for employers to view it as just that – a starting point.

There remains a crucial aspect that demands attention: the need for paid leave.

As the dust settles on this new legislation, it is evident that unpaid leave still poses challenges, particular for those without the financial privilege to take the time off without pay. True inclusivity demands a deeper commitment, one that extends beyond legal obligations to a culture of empathy and support.

As someone who has navigated the landscape of caregiving while balancing a career and family life, I understand the intricacies and challenges firsthand.

I have been on the journey of juggling caregiving responsibilities alongside a career throughout my working life, as my mother suffered a stroke in her late 30s. Suddenly, I found myself, as a young working professional in the legal sector, hiding an element of my life out of fear that my employers would see me as a bit of a ‘problem’ and not fully dedicated to the job, particularly in a sector where availability is the key commodity as a junior professional.

The responsibility of overseeing my mum’s wellbeing fell squarely on my shoulders. From hospital appointments to managing the absence of other caregivers, I was the linchpin in her care, while also nurturing my own young family. Taking unpaid leave definitely would have a felt like a luxury beyond reach.

The absence of paid leave for carers underscores a fundamental inequity in our society. For many, using annual leave as a substitute for carer’s leave becomes the only viable option, eroding opportunities for much-needed downtime and respite.

This perpetual cycle not only exacerbates the risk of burnout among carers but also maintains a system that disproportionately disadvantages those without financial privilege.

A genuine paradigm shift would entail extending carer’s leave to include provisions for paid time off. By alleviating the financial burden associated with caregiving, it would ensure that all individuals, regardless of socioeconomic status, have equal access to the support they need.

Paid leave would not only provide much-needed relief for carers but also foster a workplace culture that prioritises employee wellbeing and inclusivity. I am calling on the legal sector to lead the way on this and provide the five days of paid leave.

For years, I hesitated to openly discuss the demands of my caregiving role, fearing it might be perceived as a hindrance to my professional aspirations.

However, concealing these responsibilities only perpetuated the stigma surrounding caregiving. It was not until years later that I realised the profound impact my experiences could have in shaping workplace policies and fostering a culture of inclusivity.

My journey as a carer has had a positive influence on my career in diversity and inclusion. Today, I am proud to lend my voice not only in the capacity of my lived experience but also as someone driving the diversity and inclusion agenda at firms like Fieldfisher, where we are committed to making real change in our firm, the sector and our communities.

Through initiatives aimed at supporting underrepresented groups whose voices may not be so loud, I strive to play my part so that individuals in the law feel valued and supported, irrespective of their caregiving responsibilities.

By advocating for five days of paid carer’s leave – which I am glad to say Fieldfisher supports and already provides – I aim to create a more equitable, supportive and progressive profession where all can thrive. Paid leave for carers is not just a matter of policy; it’s a reflection of commitment to equity and wellbeing.

Justina and her mother, Liz, last year published a book of their journey of being impact by a stroke and the challenges Justina has faced in her career. To find out more visit 100% of the proceeds are donated to brain injury charity Headway.

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