Carer’s Leave Regulations 2024 –Employees with caring responsibilities to benefit from statutory protection

Whilst the Carer’s Leave Act 2003 came into force on 24 May 2023, regulations needed to be passed to set out how carer’s leave would work in practice. Those regulations were passed on 27 February 2024 in the form of the Carer’s Leave Regulations 2024, which aredue to come into effect on 6 April 2024, from which date,employees will have a statutory right to request a week’s unpaid carer’s leave from their employer to care for dependents with long-term needs, once every 12 months.

Who is eligible to take carer’s leave?

The right to take carer’s leave is a day one right, which means employees would be able to exercise the right from the first day of their employment. Carer’s leave may be taken by employees who need to care for immediate and dependent family members such as spouses, civil partners, children or parents. Carer’s leave may also be taken to care for a person who lives in the same household or a person who reasonably relies on the employee for care – essentially, the dependent does not have to be a family member.

The dependents cared for by the employee must have a mental or physical illness or injury that requires or is likely to require a) care for more than three months, b) is considered to have a disability (as defined by the Equality Act 2010), which are people that have a ‘physical or mental impairment’ and the impairment ‘has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’ if it is not already classed automatically as a disability, or c) old age requiring care.

How long can carer’s leave be taken for and must notice be provided?

Carer’s leave may be taken as full or partial days, consecutively or non-consecutively, as long as the accumulation does not exceed one week, though employers are welcome to offer a longer period on full or partial pay during the leave, should they wish to do so.

In the event the employee has a variable work pattern(such as shift workers), an employee would be entitled to carer’s leave based on an average of their work periods in the 12-month period immediately before their request (there are additional mechanisms in place to deal with requests from employee’s who have not been employed for at least 52 weeks when the request is made). Employees would need to provide notice of either twice as many days as the requested leave, or three days, whichever is greater, though employers would be free to waive the minimum notice period.

Employers are not able to ask employees to provide any evidence as part of their request nor should they ask how the employee intends to use their leave due to data protection considerations and as it may give rise to potential claims. Employees may, however, be encouraged by their employers to come forward as carers via questionnaires or surveys – National Carers Week in June 2024 may be a suitable time for employers to take a positive approach.

As an employer, can I reject the request?

As carer’s leave is a statutory entitlement for employees, and subject to the employee providing sufficient notice, employers would not be allowed to decline their employees’ requests for carer’s leave. Employers may, however, postpone the requested leave, where it reasonably considers that the operation of the business would be unduly disrupted as a result of the leave. 

In that case, employers should hold a consultation with the employee and must allow them to take the leave for the requested period within a month of the date on which the original leave was due to begin. 

If an employer seeks to postpone their employees’ request for carer’s leave, they must inform the employee, in writing, within seven days of theemployees’ original request (or prior to the date in which the leave was due to begin if the period of leave is due to begin sooner), outlining the reason for the postponement and proposing alternative dates for taking the leave.

What safeguards are in place?

Employees are protected from detriment or dismissal arising from the requesting or taking of carer’s leave or their employer’s belief that they were going to do the same, and hence, dismissal for those reasons would be considered automatically unfair. Employers should also ensure that the relevant employee is able to return to the role they were performing before taking the leave.

As an employer, what steps should I take now?

In anticipation of the changes which are set to come into effect in less than 3 weeks’ time and in line with good practice, employers should ensure that a new carer’s leave policy is incorporated into their staff handbooks, with employees being informed of the addition and being provided a clear understanding of whether they would be entitled to carer’s leave, which avoids unnecessary confusion and HR having to devote time to deal withrequests from ineligible employees.

Employers should also prepare the necessary forms for employees to complete to ensure that all relevant details are included from the outset reducing the risk of delayscaused by incomplete requests and possibly, complaints from employees.

If you’re an employer looking to ensure your policies and procedures are compliant with the impending changes, or you’re an employee that may be reading this article following the regulations coming into force and have suffered detriment or been dismissed as a result of requesting or taking carer’s leave, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist employment team: employment@curzongreen.co.uk, for assistance.

All information is true as at the date of preparing this article. Please always consult the latest legislation or government guidance for accurate information.