Most recent census data confirmed that there were approximately 4.7 million unpaid carers in England and approximately 310,000 further unpaid carers in Wales. On this basis, many employees within the UK will be balancing working and caring responsibilities, managing the additional pressure and time constraints which are associated with caring for a dependent.
Employees who have caring duties, whether short or long term, will be under increased pressure and therefore, will be at increased risk of becoming stressed, burnt out or ill, themselves. Although not all employees may feel comfortable discussing their circumstances, an open and supportive working environment will encourage them to do so. It is important for employers to understand the circumstances of their employees in order to be able to support them in the workplace.
Performance or attendance concerns can be linked to external factors such as caring responsibilities and so, where appropriate, employers may seek to have an informal conversation with the employee in order to ascertain whether there are any such factors impacting the employee’s ability to conduct their role. If appropriate, during this conversation parties may wish to discuss appropriate support for the employee which may include a flexible working request or taking a period of leave.
Carers’ Leave Act 2023
One such type of leave which may be appropriate is carers’ leave. In response to a growing call for greater flexibility for those balancing caring duties alongside employment, the Carers’ Leave Act 2023 (‘the Act’) received Royal Assent in May 2023. The Act, which is scheduled to come into force during 2024, will introduce a new unpaid leave entitlement for carers. Once implemented, carers will be entitled to up to one week of unpaid leave per year in order to care for a dependent with a long-term care need.
Who will the Act apply to?
Dependants are defined in the Act as the spouse, civil partner, child or parent of the employee, someone who lives in the same household as the employee, otherwise than by reason of being the employee’s boarder, employee, lodger or tenant, or someone who reasonably relies on the employee to provide or arrange care.
In accordance with the Act, a dependent will 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, they have a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, or they require care for a reason connected with their old age.
Employees who are eligible for leave in accordance with the Act will be entitled to at least a week’s unpaid leave during any period of 12 months. It is anticipated that employees will be able to self-certify their absence and that employees will also be able to take the leave flexibly; either individual days or half days, up to a period of one week.
As with other statutory leave entitlements such as sick pay, employers may wish to introduce enhanced leave, for example by providing the one weeks’ leave paid rather than unpaid. If opting to offer enhanced provisions, employers should ensure that these are implemented fairly and consistently.
Actions for employers
When the Act is implemented, we recommend that employers introduce a Carers’ Leave policy which outlines the new statutory right for employees and confirms their entitlement alongside the Company’s arrangements for the same. This policy should be included within staff handbooks and be available to all employees.
We are developing a Carers’ Leave Policy to help address this in your business, including a Carers’ Leave Policy and a company memo announcing the new statutory right which we will tailor to your individual business. This will allow you to remain up to date with the statutory entitlements of your employees and provide them with the new policy once the Act is implemented. It will be available free of charge to our YEAR clients and a fixed fee for others. For more information on the YEAR services available, please visit our page.