Your Guide to Upcoming Family Leave Changes

February 9, 2024

2024 is bringing a whole host of employment law updates – a number of which affect working parents. Cost of living continues to have an impact on those right across the country so the introduction of these changes will be a welcome relief for those who must juggle home and work commitments.  

6 April 2024 will no doubt be marked in many HR professionals’ calendars as they prepare for a flurry of policy and procedural changes. In this blog, we’ll explore what’s coming up and what else you should be keeping an eye on.

Changes to redundancy protection (maternity, adoption & shared parental leave)

Currently, certain types of family-related absence have a “protected period” during redundancy – this means that anyone whose role is at risk whilst they are on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave, should be given priority when it comes to identifying and offering suitable alternative employment during a redundancy process.  

From 6 April 2024, the protected period is extending. For those taking maternity leave, they will benefit from an enhanced protected period which now begins on the day the employer is notified of the pregnancy and continues until 18 months following the date of birth. Worth noting that if you are not informed of the date of birth, the period ends 18 months from the Expected Week of Childbirth (EWC) which you will have been informed of prior to maternity leave commencing.  

For those that sadly suffer a miscarriage after 24 weeks, their protected period will end two weeks after the pregnancy ends.  

The protected period for those using adoption leave will run from the first day of adoption leave until 18 months following the placement date. There is a slightly different end date if the adoption takes place from overseas.  

Shared parental leave will only need to be taken for 6 consecutive weeks before a parent is eligible for protection for 18 months following the start of the arranged leave.  

Employers will need to bear in mind how this will affect redundancies and restructures. It will have an impact on the selection process and, as always, consideration will need to be given to prevent future claims. It’s especially important to note that if a claim for unfair dismissal is made by an employee as a result of being made redundant during their protected period, they are entitled to do so, and receive compensation, regardless of the normal two years’ service requirement.  

New Carer’s Leave legislation

New legislation has been introduced to make carers leave available to those with caring responsibilities from day one of employment. Under this legislation, carers who have a dependant with a long-term care requirement will be entitled to take one week of unpaid carer’s leave in any 12-month period.  

It’s worth noting that this week’s leave doesn’t have to be taken in consecutive days. It can be taken non-consecutively and as half or full days. Another consideration for employers to be aware of and to reflect in their leave policies is that notice given requesting leave must be given with at least twice as many days’ notice as the period of leave requested. As with other types of family-related leave, those taking carer’s leave will also be entitled to protection from dismissal as a result of taking such leave.  

It's important to be aware there are some differences in intention when we think about carer’s leave and time off for dependants. We’ll be bringing you more on that soon!

Changes to flexible working

You’ve probably heard about this one a lot! So just to clarify..

From 6 April 2024, no service requirement will be applicable in order for an employee to make a flexible working request.  But it doesn’t stop there! There are some additions to this legislation that are expected to land imminently. Employees will be able to make two flexible working requests in a 12 month period and, unless agreed otherwise, the entire process should be dealt with within two months (including any appeals and outcomes).  

Employers also have a requirement to consult with employees before a request is refused, so it’s really important for employers to start thinking about their flexible working request process and what adjustments employers can facilitate.  

Amendments to Paternity Leave

The Paternity Leave Regulations have been amended to offer more flexibility to those entitled to paternity leave. It will give them more autonomy to balance work with their home lives through a more flexible approach to how long leave is taken for, at a potentially more convenient time for families.  

Currently parents are entitled to take up to two weeks’ leave within the first 8 weeks of the EWC or placement (in cases of adoption). From 8 March, babies born after 6 April 2024, parents will now be able to take paternity leave (or adoption) at any point within 12 months of the date of birth or adoption placement date. If parents chose to take the full two weeks’ leave, they no longer have to take this time consecutively – they can split the time into blocks of one week.  

The notice requirements are also changing. Parents are still required to inform their employer 15 weeks prior to the EWC that they will be entitled to Paternity Leave, but the actual requests for leave only require 28 days’ notice. As an employer you will need to think about how these changes may affect your current policy and any enhanced leave and pay offered. You should also be aware that in addition to parents declaring their eligibility, they must also declare the legitimate reason (previously they just had to declare that their request was legitimate, without providing a reason).  

Up & Coming: Neonatal care leave

You’re allowed some breathing space as this one isn’t likely to be introduced until end of 2024 or beginning of 2025. The Neonatal Care (Leave & Pay) Act has been put together with the intention to support parents whose baby is receiving neonatal care.  

This Act offers entitlement to employees from day one of their employment – however, the usual 26-week continuous service requirement for pay will apply to this Act, similar to other family-related leave pay such as SMP. It will apply to parents of babies who are admitted to hospital (up to the age of 28 days old) for a continuous stay of 7 full days or more. Parents will be entitled to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave.  

It’s important to note that parents will of course still be entitled to other family-related leave and pay in addition to absence for neonatal care. The Regulations are yet to be finalised to consider things such as notice periods, redundancy protection, timing of combined leave etc. We’ll keep you posted when we know more.  

Phew – that was a lot to get through! The changes can feel overwhelming but we’re here to support you and your business with amending and updating your family-leave policies and processes and assisting with flexible working requests as and when they arise.  

You can find out more about our employment law & HR subscription (FlamingoHR) or get in touch with the team.  

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