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Carer’s Leave Bill – what employers need to know

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The Carer’s Leave Bill is expected to come into force in 2024 after it received final approval from the House of Lords in May.

While it may seem some time away, employers should make sure they are aware of the implications for their business well in advance.

The new law will mean that employees can take up to one week of unpaid carer’s leave per year, with the aim of supporting caregivers who are balancing commitments of working and looking after relatives or friends who require long-term care.

The right is for up to one week’s leave, which can be taken in one go or in smaller chunks.

The introduction of this new right will be welcomed by many employees; national charity Carers UK estimates that more than 2 million employees in the UK may benefit from it.


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What employers need to know

Employees already have the right to time off to care for dependents under the Employment Rights Act, but this is typically in the form of unplanned leave due to an emergency or unforeseen illness.

In contrast, the new leave right is intended to be for planned events.

This could include providing care while another care giver is taking respite, or using the time to make arrangements for the long-term provision of care.

To take up the new right, employees will need to give notice of carer’s leave which is twice the length of the leave being requested, plus one day, which is similar to the notice requirement for taking paid holiday under the Working Time Regulations.

Regulations will set out more detail of how the right will work, but it appears that employees will be able to self-certify that they are a carer for someone with a long-term care need, so employers will not be able to insist on the employee providing evidence.

Importantly, employees will be protected from detrimental treatment or dismissal for reasons connected with using or trying to use the right.

This potentially gives the law real teeth, since it could give rise to an unfair dismissal claim – crucially this could be brought regardless of length of service, and would not require the employee to have two years’ service which is usually required for such claims.

Employers will need to be mindful that the right to carer’s leave will be a day-one right, meaning that it will be available from the first day of employment.

 

A catalyst for change

The new legislation sets out a minimum requirement – it is of course open to employers to pay employees taking carer’s leave, and/or to allow for longer periods of leave.

Indeed, many employers already have more generous provision in place, whether formally or informally.

In an increasingly competitive employment landscape, the longer-term impact of the new right may be to act as a driver for change, with businesses adopting yet more employee-friendly policies.

In the same way that we are seeing businesses opting to introduce more generous parental leave policies that exceed the legal requirement, it may well be that this new right could be the springboard for more generous policies for carers.

Employers would be well-advised to use this as an opportunity to consider the support offered to carers, and whether it could be improved.

 

Bob Cordran is partner at Dorsey & Whitney’s London office

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