Family friendly legislation – Upcoming changes to family leave

As 2024 gets well underway, we take a look at several employment law changes that come into effect this year. This includes new rights for carer’s leave and developments to paternity leave and redundancy protections. This short piece will summarise all the key takeaways from the upcoming changes to family leave and ensure that schools are aware of these recent developments. 

Carer’s leave

In addition to the existing limited right (emergencies, unexpected incidents, death or to make long-term care arrangements) to take a reasonable amount of time off, as of 6 April 2024, schools should be aware that employees with caring responsibility will have a statutory right to take up to one week’s unpaid leave per rolling 12-month period. This is to provide or arrange care for those dependant on them. There will be no minimum service requirement in order for employees to use this new type of leave. It will be a “day one” right. Much like other statutory leave entitlements, employees will be protected from being subjected to any detriment or dismissal, as a result of taking or seeking to take carer’s leave. 

Schools must ensure they are compliant when it comes to accommodating any absences. They also need to disregard this when making decisions around promotions, redundancies and opportunities that are available to their staff. They should also consider updating any relevant policies to include the new carer’s leave entitlement.

Paternity leave

The government has now published the Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024. These regulations came into force on 8 March 2024 and will apply where the expected week of childbirth is 6 April 2024 onwards. Under the new regulations:

  • Paternity leave will remain at a maximum of two weeks; however, the father (or partner of the mother) will have the option to take their leave and pay as two non-consecutive blocks of one week (rather than as a single consecutive block of one or two weeks).
  • The father (or partner) will be able to vary the dates of their leave, provided they give at least 28 days’ notice of the change. This is intended to provide greater flexibility in response to changing family circumstances.
  • The father (or partner) will be able to take leave at any time during the first year following the birth or adoption (rather than during just the first 8 weeks) and will only need to give 28 days’ notice of their intention to take paternity leave.

Schools should consider updating any paternity leave policies to ensure they remain compliant and that employees are aware of their entitlement. 

Redundancy rules for people who take family leave

From 6 April 2024 there will also be extended protections for employees returning from maternity leave, shared parental leave or adoption leave in a redundancy situation. Currently when an employee returns from maternity, shared parental or adoption leave they have the right to be offered a suitable alternative role, if one is available, before being made redundant. The Maternity Leave, Adoption Leave and Shared Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024 (due to come into effect on 6 April 2024) will extend the period of redundancy protection during which there is a requirement to be offered suitable alternative roles for to up to 18 months after the child’s birth or placement.

Outline of extended provisions:

  • During the pregnancy, and during maternity and adoption leave – The protection will commence when the employee notifies the school of their pregnancy. The protection will end 18 months after the child’s birth. Protection for employees who take adoption leave will also increase to 18 months after the date of placement (or date of entry into Great Britain for overseas adoptions). 
  • Employees who have suffered a miscarriage – Protection for employees who have suffered a miscarriage will begin when they notify the school of pregnancy and will end two weeks after the end of pregnancy (for pregnancies ending before 24 weeks). 
  • Shared parental leave – if an employee is taking 6 or more consecutive weeks of shared parental leave, the period of protection is 18 months after the date of birth or placement (or date they enter the Great Britain). If they employee takes less than 6 weeks’ shared parental leave, protection will only apply during the period of shared parental leave. 

Key implications for schools to consider:

  • Any schools considering or planning restructuring in 2024 will need to ensure they have properly planned for the implications of the new protections and the issues that could arise.
  • While schools should already be familiar with managing some employees with priority status, these changes look set to materially increase the number of employees with protection.
  • Failure to offer a priority employee a suitable alternative vacancy would mean the employee has a claim for an automatic unfair dismissal. This could mean a compensatory award that is not capped (and does not require two years’ service). Given these potential consequences, this is a material change in the law and employers must take note of it.

How Moore Barlow can help

Should you need any further advice or support surrounding the changes in family leave and the effective this may have on your employees, our Independent schools law team would be more than happy to guide you through the process.