What Could a Carer’s Leave Bill Mean for Employers?

Posted on Thursday, 16th Feb '23

Duane Jackson by Duane Jackson

Employers could be faced with new legislation that entitles their employees to care leave. At any point during a career, personal time may be needed to provide care for a dependent or family member. Currently, this agreement or arrangement is up to the employer’s discretion.

Included as part of the Conservative Party Manifesto since 2019, the Carer’s Leave Bill will see opportunities for unofficial carers to be allocated unpaid absence to carry out personal care and support for dependents. It could also include those with long-term care needs, which could transpire as more consistent leave for the affected employee. Employers will need to adapt their policies to accommodate this bill. They will also need to consider the implications it currently has on existing employees and whether it inspires greater flexibility for employees that require this leave later on.

According to a Government Survey, it has been revealed that around 6% of UK citizens provided some form of informal care between 2020 and 2021. Whilst these statistics reflect the responses of 4.2 million people, it indicates that a sizeable portion of citizens holds a care role. As the research could indicate, some of these individuals might also fulfil workplace responsibilities alongside care commitments.

What Defines a Carer?

Someone who is a carer, or caregiver, might offer a significant amount of time towards supporting a dependent. According to Citizens Advice, a carer dedicates time to support personal care requirements, such as washing, dressing, and taking a dependent to appointments. These examples of care are all unpaid. There is no obligation to register as a carer, but support is available if the person chooses to do so.

What is Carer’s Leave?

Once passed in parliament, Carer’s Leave will be a provision under The Employment Rights Act 1996 that will allow unofficial carers up to a week of unpaid leave allowance to complete the personal care requirements of a dependent.

The bill will alleviate employees who might otherwise use holiday and non-working hours to care for another. It should also entitle those with family members whose health is deteriorating, are registered as disabled or who require support with old age to take up to a week away from work a year to facilitate specific care needs.

This bill will be known as the Carer’s Leave Act 2022.

What do Employers Need to Consider?

As new legislation comes to light, employers will need to identify what implications this may have for them and their workforce. According to the Family Resources Survey for 2020-2021, more carers from the data pool identified as female, with the highest proportion reported to be between the ages of 45 and 64 (32% overall). Categorically, women are more likely to fulfil a care role. However, an employer needs to be mindful that an employee with a care capacity can still achieve and excel when producing quality work. This should not be an indicator used to determine whether an employee is fit for promotion or to be hired.

The sample aged 25 to 44 also noted that 6% of women in these groups provided care. Likewise, 6% of men aged between 25 to 44 supplied some form of personal care. As this is a considerable portion of the working population, it’s incredibly likely to impact employers at some point.

For employers, it’s important to be mindful of the personal circumstances of their employees. Unfair dismissal or discrimination that happens as a result of an employee taking Carer’s Leave can cause employees to trigger tribunal. An open and honest attitude between employees and employers is the key to a successful and smooth relationship.

How Will Carer’s Leave Work for Employers?

Employers are guided to treat this leave in the same way as parental leave. Essentially, this will allocate up to a week of unpaid leave allowance for an employee to accommodate the care needs of a dependent. It is the responsibility of the employee to measure themselves against eligibility criterium. This will determine whether they can take Carer’s Leave. If successful and an agreement has been arranged with the employer, the individual can take half-days or full working days (totalling a week) over 12 months. As a result, this type of leave should cause minimal disruption to regular business proceedings.

It is important to note that employers are not able to decline the request for leave. However, employers can recommend that leave is postponed during business-critical situations.

Upon requesting Carer’s Leave, an employee will not need to supply evidence of the reasons behind the request. Instead, employees will be required to start a discussion with HR and appropriate line managers informing them that Carer’s Leave will need to be taken. It is also important to note that an employee will have the same employment protections associated with other types of family-related absence, such as parental bereavement or maternity/paternity leave. The difference with Carer’s Leave is that it should be pre-agreed before use. Time spent on Carer’s Leave should be for non-urgent or emergency appointments. During the absence, terms and conditions for employment are retained.

With no statutory leave entitlement for unofficial carers currently in place, any time off for caregiving is up to the employer’s discretion. Terms and conditions of employment within a contract might also restrict leave if written within one of the clauses. These restrictions could cause severe strain on an employee that is required to complete their day job during stressful situations at home, such as the health of a relative.

Who is Entitled to Carer’s Leave?

Any employee can take Carer’s Leave once the bill has passed. The right to take Carer’s Leave is not restricted by the length of service or the industry worked in.

To take Carer’s Leave, the employee must fit into an eligibility criterium. An employee is entitled to be absent when providing care for a dependent with a long-term care need. Individuals must meet the following criteria:

  • An employee with a dependent who is considered a spouse, civil partner, child or, parent
  • An employee with a dependent who lives in the same household, except for tenants, lodgers, and borders
  • An employee who is relied upon to provide or arrange care for a dependent with a long-term care need

Employees fitting the above points should be allocated time to care for dependents, according to the Carer’s Leave Bill. As well as providing care for those with a disability, illness (physical or mental) and injury, employees can also take unpaid leave allowance to support those with ailments related to old age.

When the primary caregiver cannot complete the care needs of a dependent, the responsibility might fall on another close relative or acquaintance. When this occurs, full transparency between the employee and employer is vital.

What Happens When an Employee Applies for Carer’s Leave?

Self-certification and acknowledgement from the employee to the employer will be required. After this, there should be no evidence submitted from the employee in response to the requested leave. It is up to the employee to identify the need for Carer’s Leave, and the employer cannot decline the request.

In the first instance, transparency between the employee and employer is paramount. The request for Carer’s Leave will be dealt with by both parties. Therefore, constant communication when changes surrounding a dependent occur allows everyone to be kept in the loop. This communication could also be beneficial in the case of an emergency, so an employer is aware of potential disruption.

As this is a form of planned absence, an employee should give notice. Depending on the type of job or the contractual agreement, if there is a legal clause requesting a holiday notice period an employer might require the same due diligence with Carer’s Leave. Likewise, an employer has the right to postpone a leave request if it could affect business operations. However, an employer can not reject a request for Carer’s Leave.

In case of an emergency, Carer’s Leave does not apply. Incidents, such as situations where dependents are in danger or a child is injured at school, are treated as urgent matters.

Carer’s Leave FAQs

Who Can Be A Dependent?

A dependent on financial support and/or care requirements from another, most of the time this care comes from a close family member. However, the Carer’s Leave Bill defines a dependent as:

  • A spouse, civil partner, child, or parent of the employee
  • Reside in the same household as the employee, except for lodgers, tenants, and borders
  • An individual who relies on the employee to provide or arrange care
  • Any of the above might also require long-term care needs

It is the employee’s responsibility to identify whether an individual in their life is a dependent; it is not up to the discrepancy of the employer.

What is a Long-Term Care Need?

Long-term care needs are defined as:

  • A physical or mental illness or injury that requires care for more than three months
  • A disability
  • Care required for someone with old age

What Care Can Be Provided Whilst on Carer’s Leave?

Carer’s Leave is designed as a way to support employees who need to arrange care provisions for a dependent. Whilst it might involve some personal care activities, it could also include arranging visits with occupational health, assisting a dependent at an appointment, or arranging provisional care for the future.

What Support Can You As An Employer Be Asked For?

Dependent on the business and nature of the company, some employers might be more open to change than others. Your employees can approach you first and allow you to understand the strains and stresses that they might be under as an unofficial carer.

If it’s possible, as an employer, you might be able to offer flexibility with working hours or opportunities to work from home or closer to the location of the dependent. As an employer, you are not obliged to grant these, especially if the business is unable to provide such facilities.

Job-sharing or reduced hours might also benefit your employees when finding the time to provide care for a dependent.

Can You Dismiss an Employee for taking Carer’s Leave?

No, your employees are protected against being unfairly dismissed. There should be no changes made to the contract or terms of working because of Carer’s Leave. Your employee can discuss contractual changes in the case that a dependent’s health or care needs become greater.

If an employee has any pending disciplinary actions that are ongoing whilst taking Carer’s Leave, you are still entitled to review this and monitor the situation.

Can You Make an Employee Redundant for taking Carer’s Leave?

No, your employees are protected against this. No amends or changes should be made to employment terms because of an employee taking Carer’s Leave.

As an employer, you can review redundancy for genuine reasons whilst someone is on Carer’s Leave. However, you cannot make an employee redundant in direct correlation to taking Carer’s Leave.

Carer’s Leave needs to be dealt with in a professional and nurturing manner.

When an employee requests time for Carer’s Leave, this could be for several reasons. Although an employer has no right to reject it, an employee might need additional support with their request.

If you’re looking for a solution to meet these ever-changing requirements, check out Staffology HR, which provides smart and cost-effective ways to help your employees thrive. Why not try Staffology today? 

Duane Jackson, February 16th, 2023

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