New law will give unpaid carers a right to a week of flexible unpaid leave a year to care for a dependant with a long-term care need. We look at this new right and what it means for employers.
An estimated 2 million people in the UK balance work alongside unpaid caring responsibilities. This can be a difficult and demanding. On average, around 600 people per day leave the workforce because they cannot maintain this balance.
With an ageing population, the number of carers only looks set to increase. Many of us will find ourselves having to take time out of work to care for someone else at some point during our working lives.
Despite this, there is currently no dedicated statutory leave entitlement for informal carers. The government plans to introduce a right to one week’s unpaid carer’s leave each year to help carers better balance their caring role with their paid employment.
What legal entitlements do employees currently have?
Currently, unpaid carers who are also in employment must rely on other types of leave to meet their caring responsibilities, such as parental leave if they are caring for a child or annual leave.
Employees have the right to unpaid time off to handle emergencies and certain other situations involving dependants, including children, spouses, and parents, but this type of leave cannot be taken where the employee knows about the situation beforehand, which limits how it can be used. For example, it could not be used to take an elderly parent to a planned or routine hospital appointment.
Employees are increasingly using the right to request flexible working to help accommodate their caring responsibilities, but this is dependent on the flexible working pattern being workable for and accepted by their employer.
What will carers be entitled to under the new law?
The Carer's Leave Act 2023, which has received royal assent, will introduce a new entitlement to one week's unpaid leave per year for employees who are providing or arranging care.
The leave can be used for caring for a spouse, civil partner, child, parent, someone living in the same household or a person who reasonably relies on the employee for care.
The person being cared for must have a long-term care need. This means they must have a long-term illness or injury (physical or mental) that requires or is likely to require care for three months or more, a disability as defined in the Equality Act 2010, or require care related to old age.
The leave will be available to employees only and will be available from the first day of employment.
The leave could be taken flexibly in a block of five days or in individual or half-days to suit the carer’s caring responsibilities.
Employees will be required to self-certify their eligibility for carer’s leave. They will not need to provide evidence to their employer of how or for whom the leave is being used.
Employees taking this leave would have the same protections from dismissal or detriment as they would if they had taken other types of family-related leave - so carers will be protected from dismissal or any detriment because of taking carer’s leave.
When does the right to carer’s leave come into effect?
We do not yet know when the new right to carer’s leave will come into effect. It has been reported that this will not be before April 2024.
What steps can employers take to support carers in their workforce?
This new type of statutory leave is intended to be the minimum that an employer must provide to employees.
Employers can provide greater entitlements if they wish. For example, an employer could offer more than a week’s leave or paid leave if they wish to. Doing so would help carers to remain in the workplace and attract new prospective employees who have caring responsibilities.
A 2020 CIPD report on Supporting Working Carers found that many working carers viewed their workplace as not being particularly ‘carer-friendly’. The report emphasised the value of employer support for carers in dramatically increasing their mental wellbeing and abilities at work, as well as reducing the likelihood of working carers taking sick leave to provide care.
For employers who want to go further, the report sets out ten recommendations for employers to ensure a more supportive workplace for working carers. These include formally recognising working carers; developing policies and practices with the aim of becoming a ‘carer-friendly’ employer; and providing all carers with the right to take appropriate periods of paid carers’ leave.
From a practical perspective, employers may wish to put procedures in place to provide for self-certification of carer’s leave and to create a policy explaining the right and processes for exercising it.