New employment protections for parents and carers receive Royal Assent

3rd August 2023

On 24 May 2023, three new acts providing enhanced family friendly employment rights for pregnant women, new parents, and carers received Royal Assent. The new entitlements will not come into effect until further regulations are implemented and the timing for this is currently unknown. School’s should, however, be aware of the forthcoming changes.

Neonatal care

The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023 will enable eligible employed parents to take up to 12 weeks of additional paid leave if their new-born baby is admitted to neonatal care. The entitlement will apply from day one of employment. However, the right to pay will be subject to a 26-week service requirement. The entitlement will be available to parents whose babies are born prematurely or are poorly and need specialist care after birth. This paid leave is in addition to maternity and paternity leave.

Redundancy protection

The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 will extend the existing redundancy protections that apply to those on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.

Currently, those on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave have the right to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy, if one is available, before being made redundant, in priority over other redundant employees. This is a rare example of a circumstance in which the law permits positive discrimination.

The new act will:

  • Widen the scope of redundancy protection to pregnant women and to new parents who have recently returned to work from maternity, shared parental or adoption leave.
  • Extend the redundancy protection period so that it begins when an employee informs her employer that she is pregnant and ends 18 months from the start of maternity leave. Similar provisions will apply to staff who are adopting a child or taking a period of shared parental leave.

To be clear, the protections do not prohibit pregnant women and new parents from being made redundant in the protection period, provided that:

  • There is a genuine business need to make redundancies and
  • A fair process has been followed prior to making the decision to proceed with the redundancies.

However, if a pregnant woman or new parent is selected for redundancy during the protection period, they will have the right to be offered any available and suitable alternative vacancy, as is currently the case in respect of those on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.

Carer’s leave

The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 will create a new entitlement of one week of unpaid leave per year for caring responsibilities. It will apply to employees where they need to provide or arrange care for a dependent with a long-term care need.

“Dependent” for this purpose includes a spouse, civil partner, child, parents, a person who lives in the same household as the employee – other than by reason of them being their employee, tenant, lodger or boarder – or a person who reasonably relies on the employee for care.

A “long-term care need” is defined as an illness or injury (either physical or mental) that requires or is likely to require care for more than three months, a disability under the Equality Act 2010, or issues related to old age. It should be distinguished from other types of leave that may be used to cover a short-term care need, such as an unexpected breakdown in childcare arrangements.

The entitlement will apply from day one of employment and employees will be protected from dismissal or any suffering any detriment as a result of having taken carer’s leave.

When will the changes be implemented?

As noted above, the new entitlements each require further regulations setting out how they will work in practice prior to coming into effect. The government has not given any indication as to when these further regulations will be implemented, although it is not anticipated that this will be until April 2024 at the earliest in respect of the redundancy protections and carer’s leave, and April 2025 in respect of neonatal care leave.

Impact on schools

There is no need for schools to take immediate action, or to update policies and procedures at this time, given the new entitlements will not come into effect until further regulations are implemented. Nevertheless, schools should be aware of these new entitlements and, in due course, update any relevant family leave policies once they come into force.

We will keep schools updated on further developments in this area. In the meantime, if you have any queries regarding the changes, please contact Oliver Daniels.

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