New legislation will be boost for unpaid carers - Liam A Entwistle

Unpaid carers will receive a helping hand when groundbreaking legislation, the Carer’s Leave Act, comes into force on Saturday (April 6).

Covering employees across Scotland, England and Wales, the Act will give up to five days’ unpaid leave per year to employees who need to give or arrange care for dependants. Those dependants don’t need to be related, but must meet certain criteria, namely: a physical or mental illness expected to require care for more than three months, a disability, or care needs because of old age.

This represents a long-awaited first step in the provision of additional support in the workplace for those with caregiving responsibilities.

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According to Carers UK, an estimated 7.7 million people across the UK juggle unpaid caring responsibilities with paid employment. This legislation is the first real recognition of the needs of this large section of the UK’s workforce. This type of support provides some help to allow carers to reduce stress, tiredness and manage their own mental and physical health.

Liam A Entwistle is Head of Employment, Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLPLiam A Entwistle is Head of Employment, Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP
Liam A Entwistle is Head of Employment, Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP

The strain of caregiving is causing hundreds of people to quit jobs every day because they can’t make everything work. Supporting carers makes good economic sense; it’s hoped the Act will boost retention, productivity, and potentially save the UK economy around £3.5bn per annum. However, it’s important to recognise this as a first step. Employers can give whatever benefits they see fit to carers to keep valued employees in employment, and should be encouraged to have those conversations.

The Act’s flexibility will hopefully be welcomed by employees able to take non-continuous leave days according to their standard working week. This approach acknowledges the unpredictable nature of caregiving and offers a little much-needed respite to those balancing professional and personal commitments. The Act’s scope is broad, encompassing full-time and part-time employees, though it does, in its current form, exclude contractors.

It’s essential employers and HR professionals are well-versed on these new regulations before they inevitably start to receive leave requests, so they are handled appropriately.

Employees will be entitled to this leave from day one of starting a job with an employer. They don’t have to submit requests in writing, nor do they have to provide evidence of the dependant’s care needs.

Workers do need to give notice, which varies depending how much leave is needed. Put simply, the notice period should be twice as long as the number of days’ leave requested – so if you ask for two days off, you have to give four days’ notice.

Employers can’t refuse requests, although if they believe it would cause serious disruption to the business, they can delay. If that happens, the employer is obliged to explain the decision in writing within seven days, and agree to another date within the month.

If you’re an employer, make sure you seek HR and legal advice as required, to comply with your new obligations.

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This legislation – which brings the UK more in step with other countries – has the potential to be a win-win for both employee and employer by providing carers with vital support while helping businesses boost recruitment and retention and reduce absence rates. Let’s hope it is the beginning of recognising the difficulties carers face and encourages positive discussion in the workplace.

Liam A Entwistle is Head of Employment, Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP



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