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Introduction of statutory carer’s leave

The Carer's Leave Regulations 2024 came into force on 6 April 2024, giving employees the right to take up to one week of statutory unpaid carer’s leave in a 12-month period to care for, or arrange care for, a dependant with a long-term care need. Below, we look at the new rules in further detail. 

Who will be eligible? 

The new statutory right to carer's leave is available to all employees in England, Wales and Scotland, from the first day of their employment.  Employees can request up to one week of statutory unpaid leave if they have a dependant with a long-term care need and they wish to be absent from work to care for that dependant (assuming they have not already exceeded their statutory entitlement within the relevant 12-month period).  According to Carers UK, this should benefit around two million employees who have long-term unpaid caring responsibilities.   

Under the Regulations, a person counts as an employee’s dependant if they are: a spouse, civil partner, child, or parent of the employee; or if they live in the same household as the employee (but are not the employee's boarder, employee, lodger or tenant); or if they reasonably rely on the employee to provide or arrange care. 

A dependant is considered to have a "long-term care need" if they:  

  • have an illness or injury (whether physical or mental) that requires, or is likely to require, care for more than three months;  
  • have a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010; or  
  • require care for a reason connected with their old age.  (The legislation does not provide any detail as to what is meant by the term “old age”, but we assume that a tribunal would interpret this fairly broadly in accordance with its natural meaning.) 

Notably, an employee who requests carer’s leave is not required to supply evidence to their employer of how the leave will be used or who it will be used for.  Employees are, however, only entitled to one week of carer’s leave in each rolling 12-month period, even if they have more than one dependant with a long-term care need.   

Length of leave and notice 

The new Regulations state that employees can take carer’s leave in one continuous block, or in discontinuous blocks of one or more half or whole days, up to a maximum of one week in any rolling 12-month period. An employee needs to give their employer at least twice the number of days advance notice as the period of leave requested, or three days notice, whichever is greater. The amount of leave will be determined by the employee’s normal working pattern.   

As with certain other types of family-related leave, there is scope in the legislation for an employer to postpone an employee’s carer’s leave if they consider that the needs of their business would be unduly disrupted by the employee’s absence. However, employers need to comply with the specific notice requirements set out in the Regulations if they wish to do this. The employer also needs to consult with the employee if they wish to postpone the leave, and reschedule the leave to start no later than one month after the earliest day (or part day) of the employee’s request.  

Employee protections 

Employees on carer’s leave remain entitled to the benefit of all of their normal terms and conditions of employment, except for those relating to ‘remuneration'.  They also remain bound by the usual obligations under their contract of employment.   

In keeping with other types of similar leave, the Regulations also include provisions protecting an employee’s right to return to the job in which they were employed before they took carer’s leave, as well as protections from detriment and dismissal. 

Although the statutory right is to a period of unpaid carer’s leave, some employers may choose to be more generous and enhance the entitlement by offering a period of paid leave instead. An employer who uses their discretion to offer paid leave needs to bear in mind possible discrimination risks if they do not offer paid leave to all employees, and ensure they have a non-discriminatory reason to justify their decision. 

Distinctions from other types of leave

The Government hopes that the introduction of this right will reduce staff turnover (and associated recruitment and training costs) by helping employers to retain employees who previously may otherwise have been unable to balance their caring responsibilities and working life. 

It is important to note, however, that carer's leave is intended to be used for planned and foreseen caring commitments (as shown by the need for employees to give at least three days advance notice). Carer's leave will not cover general childcare unless the child meets the definition of a dependant with a long-term care need.  

If an employee needs to take time off to care for a child who does not meet the definition of a dependant with a long-term care need, the employee may be able to take unpaid parental leave instead (Make UK subscribers can read more about this in the Parental leave section of our HRL Resources).  Alternatively, if an employee needs to take time off in an emergency, to deal with an unexpected issue relating to the care of a dependant, they may be able to take unpaid emergency time off (see Time off for dependants for further details). In some circumstances, employers may also agree for employees to have extended periods of time away from work – such as unpaid leave, a sabbatical, or career break – where an employee requests a longer period off work than is available as carer’s leave or other types of statutory leave.  

Introducing a Carer’s Leave Policy

We recommend that employers introduce a Carer’s Leave Policy, setting out the entitlement to carer’s leave and pay, and explaining how requests will be handled.  This will help to ensure that employees and managers understand the new right and aid consistency in company treatment of leave requests. Make UK’s Carer’s Leave Policy is available here. We also recommend providing thorough training to managers on how to handle employee requests for carer’s leave (email us to find out more).   

How we can help

As with all new legislative changes, Make UK will support subscribers to understand the new provisions and we will keep you updated on developments. In particular, we have recently updated our subscriber resources to reflect these new Regulations (see here).   

To read more about other legislative changes in force from 6 April (including changes to the flexible working legislation, changes to statutory paternity leave and extra redundancy protections during pregnancy and following family related leave), see here.

If you are a Make UK subscriber, you can speak to your regular adviser for guidance on the law and best practice when dealing with requests for leave from employees. 

If you are not a Make UK subscriber, our expert HR and legal advisers can also offer guidance on a consultancy basis. For further information, click here.  

News / Make UK / HR & Legal