During last month, several new employment laws were given Royal Assent. This does not mean that they are now law, but they will be. But it normally takes at least 12 months for such legislation to come into force, so we are not talking any earlier than April 2024 implementation dates.
Each of these give important new employee rights which employers need to prepare for – the good news is that there is plenty of time. Here is a summary of what you can expect.
The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy & Family Leave) Act
Legislation that extends the protection that employees on maternity leave already enjoy with regards to redundancy.
As part of a redundancy programme, employers currently have to offer those on maternity leave priority over other employees that may also be at risk of redundancy, regarding any opportunities for suitable alternative work positions that may exist. The idea being that this should provide them with a greater possibility of remaining in employment.
Once this law comes into effect, employees on adoption/shared parental leave will also enjoy greater protection, as well as employees who have recently suffered a miscarriage.
Just as importantly, the period the protection is effective for those on maternity leave has been extended. It will apply from the point the employee informs the employer that she is pregnant, whether verbally or in writing, and will end 6 months after returning from maternity or adoption leave, although the exact length of the full period of protection has yet to be clearly defined, especially if the employee chooses not to take their full 12 month leave entitlement. So, this is one that requires further clarification.
This protection does not extend to anyone taking Paternity leave.
The Carer’s Leave Act
This new law has been widely trailed. It gives every employee an entitlement of one week’s unpaid leave per year for those who have a dependant with a long-term care need.
As it is a first-day right, it will be available to employees from the first day of their employment. And, there is no requirement to provide evidence other than self-certification. Carer’s Leave can be used for any type of care, such as taking someone to hospital appointments, or assisting with financial matters.
While there is no restriction on how the leave is used, who is a ‘dependant’ will be tightly defined. And while employers might feel it is an unnecessary burden, it is unpaid so it will not necessarily provoke a stampede to take up.
Once the law is in place, it will be important for employers to review their handbooks and policies to explain what notice employees need to give and how they can get access to such leave.
The Neonatal Care (Leave & Pay) Act
The final new piece of legislation applies to parents of babies who are severely ill at birth.
These are defined as babies admitted into hospital aged 28 days or less, and stay for a continuous period of at least 7 days. This will normally apply to most premature babies, but also others born who are then discovered to have serious health conditions.
Parents will have a right to a maximum of 12 weeks leave. This has to be taken in one block at the end of maternity/paternity leave, though we do not yet know how this will work with shared parental leave.
Again, the right to take the neonatal leave will be a day one right, available from day one of employment. However, pay is a different matter – statutory neonatal pay will be subject to 26 weeks’ service, with employees earning above the lower earnings limit (currently £123 per week).
Though it says that notice will need to be given, common sense says that there will be times when this is not possible, when leave has to be taken soon after the hospital admission. Normally, one week’s notice will be needed where leave begins sometime after the baby has been admitted.
The Next Stage
Detailed regulations for each of these new laws now needs to be announced. And we do not expect that to happen in 2023.
As soon as they are, we will update everyone again, as these are significant changes. Not only will employers need to understand them, they will need to make sure the staff do too. The problem is that often the guidance on how these new laws are intended to work is often not published until very close to, if not the day before, the law comes into force. There will, however, be plenty of coverage of what is likely to be involved nearer the time.
The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action, make sure that you know what you are doing, or call an expert for specific advice.