On 24 May 2023, three government-backed Private Members’ Bills received royal assent that pave the way for new protections and entitlements for parents and carers. These new acts allow for the extension of the current redundancy protections for pregnant women and new parents in addition to introducing entitlements to paid neonatal care leave and unpaid carer’s leave. Each of these entitlements will only be implemented once various regulations have been approved.
Redundancy protection for pregnant women and new parents
The Equality and Human Rights Commission reports that approximately one in nine mothers are either dismissed, made compulsorily redundant or are treated so poorly they feel they need to resign, driving an estimated 54,000 women to leave their jobs every year.
The current law only provides protection from redundancy to employees who are actually on maternity leave, adoption leave or shared parental leave by obliging employers to offer suitable alternative employment to them, where such a role is available with the employer or an associated employer.
The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 intends to address concerns that employers are deferring redundancies until employees return from leave. Due to come into force by 24 July 2023, this act makes provision for the extension of the existing protections to cover a longer period. The government press release states that it will “lay down secondary legislation in due course to implement these new entitlements”, so we do not yet have the exact detail of what this protection will cover. In the consultation on this topic in 2019, the suggestion was that the new protections would cover the period of pregnancy, commencing when an employer is notified about the pregnancy, and for a period of six months after a parent has returned to work.
Paid neonatal care leave
Under the new Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay Act) 2023, parents whose children are admitted to neonatal care will receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave, in addition to their maternity/paternity leave and pay entitlements.
Assuming they meet the minimum service and earning requirements, an employee with a baby that requires a week or more of neonatal care in their first 28 days of life will be eligible for leave and statutory neonatal pay. The length of paid leave granted to a parent will be based on how long their child receives this care.
Employees who take neonatal care leave will have the same employment protections as those associated with other forms of statutory family-related leave. This will include protection from dismissal or detriment as a result of having taken leave.
Again, this act does not bring in these rights imminently. The government has said that this will be implemented with approximately seven statutory instruments to be laid "in due course". This is expected to be by April 2025.
Flexible unpaid leave for carers
Carers UK estimates that there are two million people in the UK balancing work with unpaid caring responsibilities and, as the population ages, this figure is only expected to increase. Whilst employees have the right to unpaid time off in emergencies concerning their dependants, attending planned or foreseen caring commitments often requires relying on existing annual leave or parental leave entitlements.
The Carer’s Leave Act 2023, provides the basis for a new entitlement to 5 days of unpaid leave a year for employees who are caring for a dependant with a long-term care need. This will be available from the first day of employment and may be taken flexibly as a block of five days or in half-day increments.
Once in force, Carer’s Leave will be able to be used when an employee is providing or arranging care for a spouse, civil partner, child, parent, someone living in the same household or any other person who reasonably relies on them for long-term care. Like with other forms of statutory family-related leave, employees taking Carer’s Leave will be afforded protection from dismissal or detriment as a result of having taken leave.
A date for implementation of the provisions of the Carer's Leave Act is yet to be announced, with the key provisions to come into force on a day to be specified in regulations which will be laid "in due course". The Carer’s Leave Act is not expected to be implemented any time before April 2024.
These family friendly rights are not due to come into force for some time and we do not have the final details of the relevant entitlements. Once these details are confirmed, employers should look to update relevant policies and handbooks.