New law grants carers one week unpaid leave entitlement

Government-backed law is welcomed but experts raise concerns around potential implementation grey area for employers

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Employees with caring responsibilities will now be entitled to unpaid leave under a new law passed by the government.

The Carer’s Leave Bill, passed its second reading on 21 October, will grant employees a new entitlement to take up one week of unpaid leave each year to provide or arrange care for a dependant with a long-term care need.

The legislation will allow unpaid leave, regardless of length of service, offered to eligible employees from the first day of their employment. Carers taking the leave won’t be required to show how or for whom it will be used.

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Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said that many carers experience a “complex juggling of family life, caring and work” where work is often the first responsibility to be dropped. 

“We know that many carers leave work for their caring responsibilities, often leaving themselves in a financially precarious position,” said Abrahams.

“Along with the employer’s flexible working arrangement, the week’s unpaid leave included in the Carers’ Leave Bill is one element of a package of measures that could help working carers to stay in their jobs for longer, whilst continuing to care for their loved ones.”

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Currently, parents have a right to a total of 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for each child up to the age of 18. However there is no statutory right to any other unpaid leave to care for other dependants.

Helen Walker, chief executive of Carers UK, said the new bill would allow carers the flexibility to manage work alongside their caring responsibilities, adding that it made good business sense.

She said with the introduction of the law employers would be “better able to retain talent and skills within their staff teams and avoid additional recruitment costs and retention rates,” and that the wider economic benefits could be “significant”.

Amanda Trewhella, employment director at Freeths, questioned whether the bill goes “far enough” to support carers, and encouraged an open dialogue with employees to “fully understand” their difficulties.

“It will be important to keep an open dialogue with employees and create an environment where staff feel that they can voice their challenges and will be supported as far as the company is able,” said Trewhella.

Audrey Williams, employment partner at Keystone Law, stressed that although the regulations themselves won’t be released until later, it appears a lenient approach to giving the notice to take this time off is anticipated.

“There will be protection against detrimental treatment or dismissal connected to this new entitlement. This means managers should be warned to be careful how they respond to employee requests and those taking this time off,” she added.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice and consultancy director at Peninsula, echoed this and said employees who take advantage of their right to carers leave will be protected from termination or other negative consequences by the same employment protections that apply to other types of family-related leave.

But, Richard Kenyon, employment partner at Fieldfisher, said the technicalities of obtaining and taking leave are left to secondary legislation which is interesting to note because there is no minimum service requirement.

“This could mean it differs from employer to employer and may create a potential grey area for how employers wish to implement it,” explained Kenyon.

“[This] leaves it up to [the employers] discretion as to whether the week could be divided into days, the rules around providing notice to the employer and the employer's right to delay the leave should the request interfere with its business needs.”