Brand new employment right: Carer’s Leave

The government has confirmed its intention to introduce carer’s leave as a new statutory entitlement. From day-one of employment, employees with caring responsibilities will be able to take up to one week (5 working days) of leave per year to focus on the person (or people) they care for. The leave can be taken flexibly, either in individual days or half-days.

To be eligible, employees must be unpaid carers and the person they provide care to must be someone with a long-term care need. For example, a person with a long-term illness or injury covered as a disability under the Equality Act, or issues relating to old age and terminal illness. The relationship between the employee and this person will follow what is already in place for the right to time off for dependants. Namely, a spouse or civil partner; child; parent; person who lives in the same household (but is not a tenant, lodger or boarder); or, a person who relies on them for care (i.e. an elderly neighbour).

There is no obligation for employers to pay those who are on carer’s leave; the statutory entitlement is unpaid for eligible employees. But, organisations can choose to offer contractual pay if they want to. Details of this should be outlined in the handbook and communicated with the workforce. It’s important that any enhanced payments are offered consistently, to ensure all staff are treated fairly and equally.

Whilst this new legislation is similar to what is already in place for time off for dependants, carer’s leave is a brand-new entitlement that employers need to factor in and manage. Organisations should consider providing additional training to their managers and HR teams; be prepared to update policies and procedures, then communicate these changes with the workforce; assess how requests for carer’s leave will be submitted and approved; review staffing levels to make sure there are enough people in place to cover those who are off; and implement systems to track and manage leave dates. A new Statutory Code of Practice will be released to give more detailed guidance on how to do this.

Carer’s leave shouldn’t be included in absence triggers for disciplinary action; doing so could increase the risk of discrimination, unfair dismissal, and constructive claims. But, it’s important that employers keep track of how much carer’s leave an employee takes, to make sure they don’t go above their entitlement of one week per year. It’s expected that employers will have limited scope for refusing requests but a discussion can be had if they feel the employee is unreasonably requesting or taking carer’s leave.   

In situations where statutory carer’s leave is not appropriate to use – for example, if the person only has a short-term care need, or does not meet the definition of a dependant – organisations should not automatically rule out other types of leave. Time off for dependants can be used in emergency situations, or compassionate leave can be used to allow employees to be with those who are seriously ill or injured, without having a wider involvement in providing their care. If the need for the leave does not fall into any formal categories, employers should be reasonable in authorising unpaid leave to support their staff. Doing so helps reduce the risk of unplanned and long-term absences and contributes towards increased retention, motivation and productivity.

There is no set date for when this will come into effect. However, the government’s consultation response document outlines that legislation will be introduced to make carer’s leave a statutory right as soon as parliamentary time allows. 

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