In response to the 2020 consultation on carer's leave, the Government has confirmed that it will introduce a new statutory right of up to one week (i.e. five working days) of unpaid leave for carers.

Rationale behind statutory carer's leave

In a bid to address certain workplace inequalities, the Conservative party, in its 2019 election manifesto, discussed various policies which could be incorporated into UK Employment Law. These included incorporating new rights regarding the, now much discussed, concept of flexible working and a proposal to extend leave entitlement to unpaid carers.

The UK's ageing population, coupled with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on many individuals and families, has highlighted the need to address this inequality more than ever. Even though the introduction of the policy is likely to cause some additional cost for businesses, the Government considers that this intervention is essential to ensure that unpaid carers are not barred from entry to the labour market. The costs to businesses can be weighed against the potential benefits of introducing this policy, such as an increase in employee satisfaction and loyalty. This, in turn, may increase productivity and should promote a lower staff turnover which is more cost effective for businesses in the long term.

It is intended that unpaid carers could use carer's leave to make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant or provide the care themselves.

Who is eligible for carer's leave?

Employees who have a spouse, partner, civil partner, child, parent, household member or person who reasonably relies on them for care (i.e. a dependant) will be eligible to exercise their right to statutory carer's leave. This right will be exercisable from day one of their employment.

Additionally, the person being cared for must have a long-term care need and this will be defined in the new legislation as;  a long-term illness or injury (which can be physical or mental), a disability as defined in the Equality Act 2010 or issues relating to old age. There will be some limited exceptions to the ‘long-term care' requirement such as situations where a dependant is terminally ill.

Exercising the right to statutory carer's leave

It is intended that employees will be able to ‘self-certify' their eligibility to take carer's leave. This is in response to concerns raised in the consultation regarding the handling of sensitive and personal medical information relating to third parties. If the system is abused by employees, then employers are invited to deal with this in the same way as any other disciplinary matter.

As part of the push towards flexible working, statutory carer's leave will be able to be taken flexibly by employees in individual days or half days or in a one-week block. Notice to take the leave must be twice the length of the leave requested plus one day. This is the same as the notice a worker needs to give to take statutory annual leave.

Employers will be unable to deny a leave request but may request that the leave is postponed if they believe that, by taking the leave, their business operation will be disproportionately affected.

Any attempt to dismiss an employee as a result of, or in connection with, their exercising their right to carer's leave will be automatically unfair.

Looking ahead to better workplace equality

The introduction of a statutory right to carer's leave forms part of the Government's wider strategy to help the UK workplace become a more flexible environment, thus addressing workplace inequalities. Much of this strategy was, in fact, incorporated into the Conservative Party's 2019 election manifesto but has certainly been given a new lease of life following the success of homeworking throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

By introducing a right for unpaid carers to take a week of leave, the Government hopes to encourage more individuals who care for people with long-term needs to enter or remain in the workforce. This may prove essential as the UK grapples with the implications of an ageing population, coupled with staff shortages. Furthermore, the introduction of carer's leave is not without the potential for positive, long term benefits for businesses.

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