Employers must prepare for three family-friendly legal changes: Louise Lawrence
So what do the three Acts aim to achieve and what are the additional rights which employees will be afforded?
Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act
The Act aims to enhance the protection given to employees who are pregnant or new parents in a redundancy situation.
At present, if an employee is on maternity, shared parental or adoption leave and employers are considering them for redundancy, employers must offer them ‘suitable alternative employment’ where such a vacancy exists. In essence, this is a right to be prioritised for another role at the organisation over other candidates when a redundancy situation is taking place. The right to be offered ‘suitable alternative employment’ ends as soon as the employee has returned to work.
The Act extends the current protection to pregnant employees, through what it labels a ‘protected period of pregnancy’ which will be defined by secondary legislation in due course. Pregnant employees will have a right to be offered ‘suitable alternative employment’ in a redundancy situation the moment they inform their employer that they are expecting, and this protection will last for six months after returning to work from maternity leave.
A similar provision will also apply to those employees who are taking adoption or shared parental leave. For employees who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth, they will still benefit from protection under the Act.
Carer’s Leave Act
The Act aims to allow employees to better balance their paid employment with their caring responsibilities by giving them a ‘day one’ right to take at least one week’s unpaid leave during a period of 12 months to attend to their caring responsibilities.
Caring responsibilities is referred to in the Act as ‘care for a dependent with a long-term care need’ and expands on those key terms.
In order to request and take carer’s leave, employees will not need to produce evidence. This highlights the need for a transparent and open relationship between employers and employees, including employers having a clear written policy on how carer’s leave will function in practice.
Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act
To ease the burden on parents who have children in a neonatal unit, the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act provides employees with a ‘day one’ right to take neonatal leave. This is limited to employees who have a parental or other personal relationship with a child who is receiving or has received neonatal care. Up to 12 weeks’ neonatal care leave will be available, which employees can take when their child is receiving neonatal care or at another time before the end of 68 weeks beginning with the date of the child’s birth.
The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act comes into force on July 24 whereas the Carer’s Leave Act and the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act are not expected to come into force until 2024 and 2025 respectively. Given the impending change for pregnant and new parents, it is important that employers review their policies and staff handbook now.
Louise Lawrence is a Partner at Winckworth Sherwood