Family leave changes coming in April 2024 – what employers need to know

Family leave changes coming in April 2024 - what employers need to know
Home | News | Family leave changes coming in April 2024 – what employers need to know

A number of changes to family leave come into force on 6 April 2024 – introduction of Carer’s leave and changes to existing legislation on paternity leave and pregnancy and maternity rights. We take a brief look at those changes, highlighting the important points for employers.

Carer’s leave

The Carer’s Leave Regulations 2024 (SI 2024/251) come into force on 6 April 2024. These regulations will introduce a new statutory right to unpaid carer’s leave for employees in England, Wales and Scotland:

  • From 6 April 2024, employees will be able to take one week’s unpaid leave per twelve-month rolling, to provide or arrange care for a dependant with long-term care needs
  • The leave will be a ‘day one’ right, meaning that staff will not require a minimum period of service
  • The leave can be taken in one block or periods of a day or half a day
  • The leave is pro-rated to reflect an employee’s working arrangement
  • For the purposes of the regulations, a ‘dependant’ is defined as a spouse, civil partner, child or parent of the employee who lives in the same household as the employee, or reasonably relies on the employee to provide or arrange care
  • A “long-term care need” is defined as an illness or injury that requires, or is likely to require, care for more than three months, have a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, or requires care for a reason connected with their old age
  • Employees will not need to provide evidence of a need to take carer’s leave, but employers will be able to ask staff to self-certify that they are eligible
  • Maximum entitlement is one week, irrespective of the number of dependants

Understanding its application in regard to existing family-friendly policies will be important for employers. For example, carer’s leave is distinct from existing legislation which provides for time off for dependants, which is intended to be used for emergency situations which typically last one or two days. By contrast, carer’s leave has a set duration of one week and is expected to be a planned absence. As such, employers can request that a period of carer’s leave be postponed, provided it can show that the existing request will have a serious disruption to the organisation. Importantly though, an employer cannot request cannot be refused.

Organisations should consider providing training to line managers to deal with requests for carer’s leave and provide guidance on its application.

Ensuring a carer’s leave policy is in place or is incorporated into any existing family friendly policies and procedures. Consideration should be given to creating relevant systems and documentation to support and track any applications.

Communicating the introduction of the new policy will also be an opportunity for employers to demonstrate their commitment to supporting staff deal with their caring responsibilities.

Paternity Leave

On 8 March 2024, the Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024 came into force and is applicable where the Expected Week of Childbirth is 6 April 2024 onwards. Under the amendments:

  • Employees will be able to choose between taking two non-consecutive weeks of paternity leave or a single period of one or two weeks. Previously the entitlement was for one continuous block of either one or two weeks
  • Employees will be able to alter the dates of their leave, provided they give at least 28 days notice of the change
  • Employees will be able to take leave at any time during the first year following the birth or adoption, as opposed to having to take it within the first eight weeks after adoption or birth

Employers should look to ensure their policies are appropriately updated to reflect the changes in legislation and communicate the changes so that line managers and staff are aware of the revised entitlements.

Pregnancy and maternity leave – extending redundancy protection

Employees on maternity leave already have the right to be offered any suitable alternative vacancy in a redundancy situation. The Maternity Leave, Adoption Leave and Shared Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024, which come into effect on 6 April 2024 provide for greater protection against redundancy during pregnancy and for six months after return to work from maternity leave as well as certain other family-related leave. The main features of the amendments are:

  • The redundancy protection period (the right for pregnant women and new mothers on maternity leave to be offered suitable alternative employment in a redundancy situation) applies from the point that an employee informs their employer that they are pregnant (whether this is done orally or in writing).
  • The redundancy protection period is extended to 18 months after the birth of the child (or adoption placement) for employees returning from maternity leave, adoption leave or shared parental leave.

The changes in relation to maternity leave will effectively double the current period of redundancy protection from one year to around two years, assuming the pregnant employee advises the employer of their pregnancy at about the 12-week point and takes one year’s maternity leave. This could therefore substantially increase the number of employees who must be given priority for any suitable alternative vacancy on redundancy, particularly in workplaces where the majority of employees are women.

Where an employer is looking at possible restructures, they will need to ensure that redundancy processes take account of the extended redundancy protection period where any employees at risk of redundancy are pregnant or have recently returned to work from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.

Organisations should also ensure that policies and procedures are reviewed to reflect the changes. Given the significance of the changes, it will also be important to ensure line managers are provided with training and guidance to understand the effect of the enhanced protections now provided.

For specialist HR support with any of these topics, please contact Sue Meehan Boyes in our team on 07384 468797.