Julian Outen: Tips on parental and carers’ leave law for employers

parental and carers' leaveAs of 6 April, draft regulations extend further the current right of employees on maternity, adoption and shared parental leave who are at risk of redundancy, to be offered suitable available employment in preference to other employees who are also at risk, but not on such leave.

The protection will apply to pregnant employees from the moment they notify their employer of their pregnancy. Currently, the right lapses upon return from maternity leave. The enhanced right will afford protection to pregnant employees, and those who are on or have returned from such types of leave, for a period of 18 months from their child’s birth or placement for adoption. For an employee on maternity leave who has availed themselves of their full 12 months of maternity leave entitlement, this means protection extends for a further six months after their return.

These new rules will apply to any pregnancies notified to the employer on or after 6 April 2024 and, in respect of the additional protected period after the end of maternity leave, to leave ending on or after 6 April. It will also be applicable for adoption or shared parental leave ending on or after the same date.

Simultaneously, the Carer’s Leave Act 2023 will provide a new statutory right for all employees from the first day of their employment to one week of unpaid leave each year to provide or arrange care for a dependant with a long-term care need. The Carer’s Leave Regulations 2024 brings this into force.

A dependant includes a spouse, civil partner, child, parent or person who lives in the same household as the employee, who reasonably relies on them for care. One week of a carer’s leave can be taken each year, regardless of the number of dependents they may have. The leave does not have to be consecutive and can be taken as individual or half days, up to and including one week. Employees returning from carer’s leave are entitled to their previous position, and any dismissal related to this leave is automatically unfair.

To prepare for these legislative changes, employers should review processes and ensure managers are aware of these new rights, providing training and guidance where necessary. Employers must endeavour to identify vacancies and offer suitable alternative employment to qualifying employees in order to avoid unfair dismissal or discrimination claims.

They should familiarise themselves with any new terms pertaining to these law changes, such as long-term care and dependant to ensure maximum compliance, and when handling personal data, consider GDPR implications related to any redundancy or caring responsibilities.

Employers should make sure payroll and other HR systems reflect the new rights and entitlements, including any additional support and enhanced entitlements for employees taking leave under the updated term, and communicate effectively with new and existing employees on key updates. These proactive steps will ensure compliance with upcoming regulations, while fostering a supportive and legally compliant work environment for employees and employers alike.

Julian Outen is a partner and head of employment at Ellisons Solicitors