The Government has recently published details about the new right to carer's leave. Many employees also having caring responsibilities and so will welcome the announcement that there will be a day one right to one week's "carer's leave" per year (pro-rated for part-time employees). However, the leave is unpaid and, arguably, the proposals do not go far enough and it is possible that many employees will simply continue to take annual leave because they cannot afford unpaid time off to provide care.
On 23 September, at the same time as the well-publicised Consultation on a proposed “day one” Right to Request Flexible Working, a separate Government Response has been published on a new right to Carer’s Leave. A Government Response means that these are now the Government’s firm proposals rather than consultation questions. The headlines may seem like a victory for many employees, but with an ageing population to care for and with the proposed leave being unpaid, it has to be asked as to whether the proposals go far enough.
Employees (no mention of workers) will have a "day one" right to one week's unpaid "carer's leave" per year (pro-rated for part-time employees). This will depend on a similar caring relationship as for those currently eligible for Time off for Dependants and would usually relate to a long-term care need for illness, injury, disability or old age, unless a terminal illness is involved.
The week may be taken in one block or in individual or half days. Notice would need to be given on the basis that there remains the right to Time off for Dependants in scenarios where there is an emergency situation. The notice would operate in a similar way to taking holiday under the Working Time Regulations 1998 and carers would self-certify that they meet the eligibility requirements. There will also be a broad definition of what the leave might be used for. Dismissals for reasons connected with exercising the right would be automatically unfair.
Even though this is a Government Response, with concrete proposals, it will be brought forward “when Parliamentary time allows”, a phrase that is being more and more frequently used in Government publications. It is also to be brought in “alongside” the flexible working rules, where we are only at Consultation stage, so it will be interesting to see whether it will actually precede any changes in flexible working.
Two main questions remain about the efficacy of these proposals for those that actually have caring responsibilities:
- Will it make much difference since the statistics showed that two thirds of carers already used annual leave, often because they could not afford unpaid time off?
- Since it is unpaid leave, and therefore could present minimal costs to employers, does one week really go far enough in making any difference to keep carers in work? It is far more likely that flexible working and any extensions to it will achieve this, providing the employer agrees.
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