New legal rights for carers: What HR professionals need to know

New legal rights for carers: What HR professionals need to know

At a time when more workers than ever before have caring responsibilities let’s break down the Carer’s Leave Regulations 2024 and consider how and why employers should go above and beyond in providing more than the minimum that’s required by law.

The Carer’s Leave Regulations 2024, which came into force on 6 April 2024, granted new employment rights for people who juggle unpaid caring responsibilities with paid employment.

These regulations introduced a new statutory right to unpaid carer’s leave for employees in Scotland, England and Wales.

The main points employers need to know

The changes give the right to a week’s unpaid leave in each rolling 12-month period to the estimated two million UK employees who also provide or arrange care for a dependant with a long-term care need.

This might be a spouse, civil partner, parent, child or someone who lives in the same household as the employee (other than a boarder, employee, lodger or tenant). Or someone who reasonably relies on the employee to provide or arrange care. Therefore, it could be a friend, partner or even a neighbour.

A long-term care need can be a physical or mental impairment or injury that requires care, or is likely to require care, for more than three months.

It could also be someone that has a disability (under the Equality Act definition), or needs care for a reason connected with their old age.

The leave can be taken in separate half-days/days or as a block of one week.

The right to take the leave is from day one of employment.

Protection and notice

Employees are protected by law from being dismissed or treated detrimentally for having taken this leave or seeking to take it.

Employees must give notice before taking leave, but this doesn’t need to be in writing. The notice period must be at least three days for a half-day or full day.

For longer periods of leave, notice must be twice as long as the number of days the employee wants to take (eg. two weeks’ notice for a period of one week).

An employee does not need to provide evidence of why they need the leave, and an employer can’t require an employee to supply evidence in relation to a request for carer’s leave before granting it.

An employer can’t decline a request, but can agree with the employee to delay it if it is going to cause undue disruption for their business.

The reason for the delay must be put in writing to the employee within seven days of their request and the postponed leave must be no later than one month from the earliest date of the leave request.

Why has this come about?

The new regulations align with growing societal expectation that employers should be more flexible and support people to manage their lives outside of work.

As the population ages, the challenge of managing care responsibilities alongside employment is growing.

The change will be particularly welcomed by women, who are still far more likely than men to be juggling work and care – for children, elderly relatives or both.

The fact that employees don’t need to provide evidence to back up their leave request may create some nervousness, especially from smaller employers.

But the leave is unpaid, and in the current financial climate, not many are likely to be able to afford to abuse this system.

What HR professionals should be considering

Employees are protected by law from being dismissed or treated detrimentally for having taken the new carer’s leave.

It’s worth considering training all line managers on the new entitlement and giving them guidance on how to respond to requests, to keep your organisation on the right side of the law.

In reality, most employers won’t notice much of a change in terms of absence rates.

Carers who needed time off work before 6 April probably already took it – just under a different name. They may have called in sick, or taken emergency time off for dependants, annual leave or compassionate leave.

Employers who have no carer-related policies in place, should introduce them and think about the pressures facing employees who are also carers. Those who already have a policy should review it carefully to ensure it complies with the new regulations.

If an employee has caring responsibilities that can’t be managed through the new leave, a discussion about flexible working options such as remote work or compressed hours may offer a more sustainable solution.

Going above and beyond

Progressive employers often provide more than the minimum that’s required by law, so some UK organisations already offer enhanced carer’s leave.

It’s worth considering introducing paid carer’s leave, or a longer unpaid leave entitlement, to stay attractive in terms of recruitment and retention.

Going above and beyond also sends the message that you’re a carer-friendly employer. This is particularly important at a time when more workers than ever before have caring responsibilities.

If you would like further information about any of the points raised above, get in touch with Jemma Forrest or your regular Anderson Strathern contact.

A version of this article was published by HR Zone.

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