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Consultation launches on providing one week of unpaid leave to carers

29 April 2020

The Government has launched a consultation on the proposal to provide one week of unpaid leave for carers, as was promised in the Conservative Party's November 2019 election manifesto and included in the most recent Queen's Speech.

The recently published consultation on carer’s leave.  sets our proposals to introduce a new right which would allow unpaid carers to take a week of unpaid leave from work to provide care every year. The care would be for a family member or a dependant who has a long term or significant care need. The consultation is clear that they are not considering the introduction of any entitlement to pay for this leave.

The main issues to be considered on consultation

  • Who is a carer and who can be cared for?

    The Government are consulting on the eligibility criteria for an employee to be classed as a carer. The idea is that this will be factually clear so as to avoid any disagreements or confusion. The consultation envisages that the definition of those who can be cared for will broadly mirror the dependant relationships found in the right to take time off for dependants i.e. a spouse or civil partner, a child, a parent, a person who lives within the same household as the employee (subject to restrictions) or someone else who reasonably relies on the employee for care.

  • What is the care need?

    The Government are clear that this new right is aimed at those who struggle to stay in work because of the burden of their caring responsibilities.  As such, it is proposed that carer’s leave will be restricted to assist only those with long term health conditions where the care need is likely to last longer than six to twelve months. The Government do not view general childcare or circumstances where someone may require limited support (e.g. recovering from surgery) as being within the scope of the leave.

  • Should there be a qualifying period?

    The Government are welcoming opinions on whether there should be a qualifying period for carer’s leave or if it should be given as a day one right for all employees.

  • How can the leave be taken?

The Government is considering whether the leave should be taken as individual days or a single block of one week. In addition, views are invited as to whether a notice period is appropriate and if so what that notice period might look like.

Implications

The Government has stated that they would expect an employee who takes advantage of this right to have “similar employment protections” as are given by other statutory leave entitlements. Employees would have the right not to be subject to any detriment due to exercising or seeking to exercise this right, and a dismissal for this reason would be an automatic unfair dismissal.

Employees may also have the right to bring a claim at an Employment Tribunal if their request for carer’s leave was unreasonably refused.

Whilst this new right has been welcomed by many, it may be viewed by some employers as another HR and management headache with the possibility that employees could be absent from work five times a year on very little or no notice, albeit unpaid.  And for those with significant caring responsibilities, one week of unpaid leave may not be sufficient to provide real help as they struggle to balance work and care.

The consultation is open for responses until 3 August 2020.

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