There are a number of potential developments on the horizon concerning family friendly leave and flexible working which employers should be aware of.
Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill
This is a Bill which will, if passed, allow for separate legislation to be enacted which extends the current redundancy protection for mothers on maternity leave to expectant mothers and parents on adoption and shared parental leave. The protections will also continue for a further period of time after the employee has returned following maternity, adoption and shared parental leave. At present, it is expected that this will be for a period of six months. Potentially big changes here to restructuring and redundancy planning and processes.
Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill
Under the proposed Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill, parents of a child who is receiving neonatal care would be entitled to take a minimum of one week’s neonatal care leave. It may be that the maximum period of leave would be 12 weeks; however, this has not been confirmed. At present, it is expected that neonatal leave would be in addition to other family leave entitlements, such as maternity leave. The neonatal care must have started within 28 days of the day after the child’s birth and must be taken in blocks of a week. The leave must be taken within 16 months of the birth. Leave could be taken by either parent; it is not shared. In addition, qualifying employees would also be entitled to statutory neonatal care pay, likely to be at the same rate as other statutory family leave payments. The Bill is currently receiving its second reading in the House of Lords so it is unlikely the Bill will be passed for many months. If passed, careful planning will be needed if an employee is entitled to a longer period of leave, particularly, if additional resources are required to cover their work.
Carer’s Leave Bill
Under the Carer’s Leave Bill, employees with caring obligations would be given the formal right to take a minimum of one week’s unpaid carer’s leave every year of employment. Carer’s leave will be available to eligible employees as a day one right and would be in addition to statutory emergency dependant leave. Under the proposed legislation, employees will be able to take the leave flexibly to suit their caring responsibilities. It is also unlikely employees would need to show evidence of how and for whom the leave is to be used, as it would be based on a self-certification process. A “dependant” is expected to include a spouse, civil partner, child or parent who has long-term care needs. Employees taking their carer’s leave entitlement or exercising the right to do so will also be protected from being dismissed or otherwise suffering a detriment as a result.
Proposals to amend the UK’s flexible working legislation are currently working its way through Parliament as well under a Private Members’ Bill – the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill. The following changes are proposed:
- Changing the right to request flexible working to a day-one right (removing the need for 26 weeks’ qualifying service);
- A new requirement for employers to consult with employees before rejecting a request. This is to allow for alternatives to be found/discussed;
- Allowing employees to make two statutory flexible working requests a year (rather than one);
- Removing the need for employees to have to explain how/if their request would have any negative impact on their role and how this could be mitigated; and
A shortening of the statutory flexible working procedure from three months to two months (albeit one suspects with the ability to extend on agreement).
These are proposals and the exact timetables for changes have generally not been announced. Even if the various Private Members’ Bills are passed in 2023, any changes would not be made till 2024, at the earliest, as in many cases, separate enabling legislation would need to be passed. We could still be writing about the proposals for a while to come! However, there could be opportunities for employers to think now about the proposed family friendly changes and whether there are any that could be adopted now as a matter of internal policy.
Emma O’Connor is legal director in the employment team at Boyes Turner LLP