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Emma O’Connor, the Director and Head of Training – Employment Group at law firm Boyes Turner, lays out some of the new UK legislation affecting carers this year.
Employees with family or caring responsibilities look set to benefit from a raft of new legislative measures from the UK government in 2022 and beyond.
Although it was already the norm for some employers, the Covid pandemic forced many organisations to offer flexible and home working for the first time. It is impossible to turn the clock back, and employees are now looking for employers that acknowledge and support their home lives, particularly the challenges of juggling caring responsibilities and family commitments with work.
In some ways, the UK government is playing catch up with this shift towards family friendly workplaces, and we expect several new family friendly measures to be included in the, as yet unpublished, Employment Bill.
The government published its response to the 2020 consultation on carer’s leave and has confirmed its plans to introduce a new entitlement to statutory carer’s leave for employees as a “day one” right, rather than having a length of service condition.
The proposal is to offer employees up to five working days of unpaid leave per year to provide or arrange care for a person with a long-term care need. Leave may be taken in full or half days with employees being required to give notice that is at least twice the length of the time being requested as leave, plus one day. “Dependant” would follow the existing definition as set out in the statutory right to time off for dependants so would include caring for a child, partner or parent. The expectation is that carer’s leave is for planned purposes, rather than unexpected reasons and that employees would need to self-certify to benefit for the leave.
Employees who take carer’s leave will be protected from detriment as a result of taking the leave and also if an employee is dismissed for reasons connected with taking carer’s leave, the dismissal will be automatically unfair.
In addition to the proposed improvements for the rights of carers, there are also plans to introduce neonatal leave and pay for parents of babies requiring neonatal care. Parents will have the right to take an additional week of leave for every week their baby is in neonatal care, up to a maximum of 12 weeks. Statutory pay would be available for qualifying employees as we see with other statutory family leave payments.
Another change which is proposed in the Employment Bill is the extension of protection against redundancy in pregnancy, maternity, adoption, and shared parental leave. The protection would apply from the point where the pregnant woman notifies their employer of their pregnancy until 6 months after they return to work. Similar protection would be afforded to those returning to work from adoption leave and shared parental leave.
There are also proposed changes in statutory flexible working, after the government’s consultation document ‘Making Flexible Working the Default’, which was published in September 2021. The proposals include making the right to request flexible working another “day one” right, removing the requirement for 26 weeks’ qualifying service for employees.
We await detailed legislation, in particular the Employment Bill which is expected to be published at some point in 2022. No specific dates have been given for when this new legislation will come into effect, just when parliamentary time allows. The new legislation will be good news for employees with family and caring responsibilities and sets out a clear direction of travel for employers who want to demonstrate best practice in this area.
There is also an opportunity for employers to go even further and offer more support, which will help them stand out in an increasingly competitive employment market.
Emma is the Director and Head of Training – Employment Group at Boyes Turner.