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The new right to Carer’s leave – what employers need to know

From 06 April 2024, there will be a new statutory right to unpaid carer’s leave for employees. Where an employee looks after someone with a long-term care need, they are entitled to take one week’s unpaid leave per year, which can be taken all at once or in blocks. There is no minimum period of qualifying service required, and so this is a “day one” right.

The Government’s aim with this change is to provide additional support to long-term carers who until now have had to use their annual leave to carry out their caring duties around their work commitments. The hope is that it will help carers to stay in work, and in turn help businesses to reduce their staff turnover.

Who does it apply to?

All employees that have a dependant are covered. This includes the usual groups of people such as spouses and children but also, more widely, any person who reasonably relies on the employee for care.

(It is worth noting that this new right does not change the statutory right to take time off for dependents, which is also unpaid and is designed to provide short-term leave to cover emergency situations).

What counts as a “long-term care need”?

The law is prescriptive on this point, and states that it must be one of the following:

  1. an illness or injury that will require (or is likely to require) 3 or more months’ care.
  2. a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
  3. care in connection with old age.

How much notice is required?

The required notice period is either twice as many days as the period of leave required, or three days, whichever is the greater, and the notice need not be in given writing. The notice can also be waived if the employer chooses to do so.

Is evidence required?

An employer cannot request evidence in relation to the request before granting the leave and they may not outright decline a request, however, they may postpone leave where all of the following apply:

  1. It would lead to excessive disruption to business operations; and
  2. The employee is allowed to take that leave within a month of the period initially requested; and
  3. The notice of postponement is given in writing within 7 days of the initial request setting out why and when it can be taken instead.

If employees already have an existing contractual right to take carer's leave, an employee will only be permitted to take advantage of whichever entitlement is more favourable, so they cannot benefit twice. In either case, the employee will still benefit from the protection of the statutory scheme, e.g. protection from dismissal.

What happens if an employer breaches this new legislation?

An employee will be able to bring an Employment Tribunal claim in the event their employer unreasonably postpones or prevents an employee from taking this leave.

Now that the new right is coming into force, employers should consider what practical adjustments they need to make, for instance adding details of carer’s leave to staff handbooks, leave policies and making changes to internal HR booking systems. It will also be important to ensure managers are trained so that they are aware of the new right and know how to handle requests.

If you would like assistance with a potential constructive dismissal case, please contact any member of our Employment Team.

 Please note that this update is not intended to be exhaustive or be a substitute for legal advice. The application of the law in this area will often depend upon the specific facts and you are advised to seek specific advice on any given scenario.