Carers Leave Creates A New Right For Employees With Long Term Caring Responsibilities
The Government consulted on potential Carers Leave in 2020 and published their response to that consultation in September 2021. The Carers Leave Bill progressed through Parliament and received Royal Assent in May 2023, so is now an Act of Parliament. The new legislation will provide a right to up to five working days of unpaid leave per year for employees who have long-term caring responsibilities for a dependant. This right would be from ‘day one’ of the employment.
This page was first published on 29 March 2023 and the latest update was on 13 December 2023.
Following agreement by both Houses on the text of the bill it received Royal Assent on 24 May 2023. The bill is now an Act of Parliament (law) and is due to come into force on 6 April 2024.
Eligibility To Carers Leave
Employees will be eligible to take carers leave from ‘day one’ of the employment.
“Long-term care need” is defined as:
- An illness or injury (either physical or mental) that requires/is likely to require care for 3 months or longer,
- A disability under the Equality Act 2010, or
- Issues related to old age.
There will be limited exemptions from this requirement for long-term care – for example, in the case of terminal illness.
The definition of a dependant follows the one used for the right to time off for dependants. This includes: a spouse, civil partner, child, parent, a person who lives in the same household as the employee but not as a boarder/employee/lodger or tenant, or someone who reasonably relies on the employee to provide or arrange care.
This last relationship mentioned is critical for employees as a catch-all provision. The consultation highlighted that the leave should be available to those caring for girlfriends, boyfriends, siblings, grandparents, and so on. The inclusion of “a person who reasonably relies on the employee for care” is sufficiently broad to include such relationships.
The leave will be a “day one” right, meaning there is no minimum service requirement to take advantage of it. As with other statutory leave entitlements, employers cannot penalise any employee choosing to take advantage of carer’s leave once it is brought into force. Dismissal of an employee for a reason connected with their taking carer’s leave will be automatically unfair.
How Carers Leave Can Be Taken
Carer’s leave can be taken flexibly either as consecutive or non-consecutive full days or half days, up to a block of one week per year. It was clear from the consultation that this approach was regarded as the most advantageous for carers.
The employee must give notice, in writing, that is twice the length of the time being requested as leave, plus one day. Employers will not be able to deny employees’ requests for carer’s leave but can postpone the leave if the business would be unduly disrupted. In that case, the employer would need to give a counter-notice. The employer must then allow the leave to be taken within one month of the start-date of the leave originally requested.
How To Prepare
It is widely recognised that employees caring for a dependent often resort to requesting parental leave or flexible working arrangements in support of their duties, both of which were designed for other purposes. This entitlement will be in addition to the current legislation which allows employees to take time off to care for dependants in an emergency.
The take-up of this right may be limited as time off will be unpaid. A key decision for employers will therefore be whether to offer full pay for at least a proportion of the week’s leave.
From a practical perspective, employers are likely to want to put paperwork in place to provide for self-certification of absence for caring responsibilities and to create a policy explaining the right and processes for exercising it.
Employee Handbook Compliance Package