Professional Comment

‘Family Friendly’ Employment Law Changes: What Care Homes Need To Know

By Ian Pace, Partner in Weightmans’ employment law team (www.weightmans.com/people/ian-pace/)

A raft of changes to employment rights legislation recently came into effect, and it’s important that care homes familiarise themselves with these changes and what they mean for their employees. Ian Pace, employment solicitor and partner at national law firm Weightmans explains what care home managers and HR teams at care homes need to prepare for.

Making employment law more family friendly seems to be a key objective for the legislature if a recent spate of changes to employee rights is anything to go by. In April, a host of family-friendly oriented changes were brought in to strengthen and modernise several aspects of employment law.

We have seen changes to the law in areas including paternity leave, care leave and flexible working rights that have a bearing on how employees can spend time with their family and loved ones.

Many of these changes have recently taken effect, and some are due in early 2025.

Leave for carers

The Carers’ Leave Act 2023 was approved back in May 2023, and came into force in April 2024. The act means employees who are also unpaid carers for a dependent have a day-one right to take up to one week’s unpaid leave each year to provide care. The quota can be taken separately as half or full days or used consecutively.

Given ongoing resourcing challenges in healthcare, it’s important for care home managers to be aware that while they cannot refuse this leave request or ask for ‘evidence’, care workers must provide them with notice (three days, or twice the number of days the employee wants to take off, whichever is longer). Employers then have the right to postpone the leave for up to one month if they think it would cause undue disruption to the business.

However, care home managers need to be careful as there are protections from detriment in place for carers asserting their right to carer’s leave. If an employee feels they have been put at an unfair disadvantage at work as a consequence of exercising their right to carers’ leave, a care home could find itself faced with legal consequences. Care workers can bring an employment tribunal claim if they feel that their employer has unreasonably postponed, prevented, or attempted to prevent them from taking carers’ leave.
Flexible paternity leave

In April, fathers and partners received more flexibility in how they take paternity leave thanks to updated regulations. They will now be able to take leave as two one-week non-consecutive periods, while previously they were only allowed a single block of one or two weeks.

The updated legislation also allowed them to take this leave at any time within the first year after the birth or adoption – previously this would have to be in the first eight weeks.

The notice period that fathers and partners have to give has also been shortened from 15 weeks to 28 days, or seven days in cases of adoption (although 15 weeks’ notice must still be given of the expected date of the child’s birth). They will now also be able to change the dates of their leave so long as they give 28 days’ notice of this change.

Updates to flexible working rights

The Flexible Working Act and the associated ACAS Code of Practice on Handling Flexible Working Requests have both been updated, with new provisions in force from 6th April.

The most significant change is that the right to make a flexible working request is now a day-one right, as opposed to the previous requirement for a worker to have 26 weeks of service.

Employees can also make two requests a year, as opposed to one, and no longer have to explain the impact on their employer or outline how this should be managed.

Employers must provide a response to a flexible working request within two months, rather than the previous three, unless an extension is otherwise agreed upon. They must also consult with their employee if they intend to fully or partially decline the request.

Given these revised time constraints, it is essential for employers to have a timeframe in mind when responding to any request. The employee’s written agreement is needed if an extension is required.

Additional leave for neonatal care

As an addition to existing maternity and paternity rights, new neonatal care leave and pay provisions were approved in May 2023 and are expected to come into force in April 2025.

Parents with 26 weeks’ service will be entitled to 12 weeks’ additional paid leave if their baby requires seven days or more of continuous neonatal care within 28 days of being born. While all the details are yet to be finalised, the leave will likely need to be taken within 68 weeks of the child’s birth. The statutory rate for neonatal care pay is yet to be set, but it is anticipated that it will be the same as maternity leave pay or 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings, whichever is lower.