Employment law: improving work-life balance

UNISON’s legal team explores several new and amended regulations that seek to improve family life for employees

The past few years have seen an increased emphasis on work-life balance, especially with the rise of home working. Several recent legal developments have extended family friendly rights to further balance commitments at work and at home.  

The Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024 

Previously an employee would have to choose between taking one week or two consecutive weeks paternity leave. Under the new regulations, they will be able to take two separate, one-week blocks if they wish.  

The leave can be taken at any time during the 52 weeks after birth, rather than the current period of 56 days. The requirement to give notice of the intention to take paternity leave has been reduced from at least 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth to only 28 days. 

The regulations will apply where the expected week of childbirth is on or after 6 April 2024 and will hopefully afford more flexibility to employees who are entitled to paternity leave.  

The Maternity Leave, Adoption Leave and Shared Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024  

Currently, in a redundancy situation, employees on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave must be offered a suitable employment vacancy where one exists.  

The 2024 regulations will extend this protection for employees on maternity leave to include both the employee’s pregnancy and a period of 18 months from the first day of the week of childbirth. Where the employee gives notice of the exact date of birth, before their maternity leave ends, the 18-month period will start from that date.  

The extended protected period will apply where the employer is informed of the pregnancy on, or after, 6 April 2024.  

For adoption leave, the protected period will extend to 18 months from the placement for adoption.  

For shared parental leave, the protected period will be 18 months from the birth, if the parent has taken at least six consecutive weeks of shared parental leave.  

The Carer’s Leave Regulations 2024  

With effect from 6 April 2024, employees have a statutory day one right to take one week of unpaid carer’s leave in any 12-month period.

This will apply to any employee with a dependant (a child, a spouse or civil partner, a parent or anyone who lives in the same household and is not a tenant or lodger) who has long-term care needs, and will allow employees to provide or arrange care for that dependant. This leave can be taken consecutively, non-consecutively or in half or full days.  

An employee will need to give notice to their employer and provide at least twice the amount of notice as the amount of leave requested or three days’ notice, whichever is longer.  

An employer cannot refuse a request for carer’s leave, but is allowed to postpone a request if the operation of the business would be unduly disrupted. However, they must give written notice of the postponement before the leave is due to begin and provide reasons.  

The employer must also ensure that the leave can be taken at another time within one month of the start of the leave originally requested. The employer should consult with the employee to determine new leave dates. An employee is protected from being dismissed or subjected to a detriment because they have taken, sought to take, or the employer believes they were likely to take carer’s leave.   

Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023 

The regulations will introduce a day one right to make a request for flexible working, in respect of requests made on or after 6 April 2024. This means that an employee will no longer need to have 26 weeks’ service to make a request for flexible working. The employer must consult with the employee before making a decision. 

It is important to note that this is only a right to make a request for flexible working, rather than a right to flexible working.  

Other changes to flexible working were proposed in autumn 2023, for example for an employee to be able to make two requests within a 12-month period (an increase from one) and for the timeframe within which an employer must make a decision to be reduced from three months to two months from the date of application.

However, these changes have not yet been enacted by the secretary of state, and so it is unlikely they will take effect in time for requests made on or after 6 April 2024, alongside the day one right. 

Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023  

The act is expected to come into force in April 2025, when it will give employees a day one right to take up to 12 weeks leave for neonatal care (medical or palliative care for a premature or sick baby). To receive paid leave, the employee must have been employed for at least 26 weeks prior to making their request and have average earnings of at least £123 a week.  

The right will only apply where neonatal care is required within the first 28 days of the baby’s life and the leave must be taken within the first 68 weeks of the baby’s birth. 

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