The new UK family-friendly laws give employees greater support and protection, thanks to three ground-breaking Acts and one Bill that received Royal Assent – when the King of Great Britain formally agreed to make the bill into an Act of Parliament (law) – and are likely to be introduced by early 2024[i].
The family-friendly laws include The Carer’s Leave Act, The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act, and The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act. They will give employees unparalleled support in various caregiving and family-centered situations. The Flexible Working Bill also received Royal Assent in July, giving employees the right to request flexible working from day of one of a new job, with employers required to consider any requests and provide a reason before rejection[ii].
Now is the ideal time for employers to start preparing and communicating these changes to their employees. It also is an opportunity to remind employees about their existing benefits or to review and enhance current benefits programs.
What do these new laws mean for employees and employers?
The Carer’s Leave Act will give all unpaid carers in the UK the right to take up to five days unpaid leave for their caring responsibilities[iii]. Employees who care for a spouse, civil partner, child, parent, or other dependent (who needs at least three months of care due to an illness, injury, disability, or old age) will be able to take time off to manage their caring responsibilities. This leave does not have to be taken consecutively and can be used flexibly so that employees could take leave in half days or even hourly. Also, under this Bill, employees will have protection from any risk of dismissal or discrimination because of taking time off.
In support of Carer’s Week, a time in the UK where recognition is given to the carers of people with specialist needs, a new report[iv] was published by charities which found that one in five people (20%) are currently giving unpaid support or care to someone. It also highlighted there are an estimated 10.6 million unpaid carers in the UK[v]. With the population aging and living longer, this figure is expected to grow. This new law, therefore, will help UK carers to juggle their work and caring responsibilities, as well as support employers. The goal is enhanced security around staff retention and a greater focus on wellbeing.
Employers could also consider enhancing this with additional leave or enabling people to work more flexibly. Enhanced benefits such as Employee assistance programs and other counseling and wellness services are also important components for employers to consider as well. In cases where they are in place already, these new protections present a re-education opportunity.
The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act aims to provide additional leave and pay for employees responsible for children receiving neonatal care. Parents will be able to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave, in addition to other leave entitlements such as maternity and paternity leave, to spend more time with their baby at a hugely stressful time[vi].
More than 90,000 babies in the UK are admitted into neonatal units each year, accounting for around 15% of all UK births. Again, employers should ensure employees are aware of the benefits and support available, whether through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), targeted counseling by private healthcare, or signposting to other resources and support.
The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act will provide protection against redundancy during or after pregnancy or after periods of maternity, adoption, or shared parental leave. The protection will apply from the point the employee informs the employer that she is pregnant, whether verbally or in writing, and will end 18 months after the birth.
Under current rules, before offering redundancy to an employee on maternity leave, shared parental leave or adoption leave, employers have an obligation to offer them a suitable alternative vacancy where one exists. The new law will enable this redundancy protection to be extended so it applies to pregnant women, as well as new parents returning to work from a relevant form of leave.
This will help shield new parents and expectant mothers from workplace discrimination, offering them greater job security at a crucial time in their lives[vii].
Finally, the Flexible Working Bill will allow UK workers to request flexible working from day one and to request this twice a year now instead of just once. Also, employers must provide a reason before rejection within two months of a request, not three months as before. Employees will no longer need to explain what effect, if any, the change applied for would have on the employer and how that might be dealt with[viii].
This Bill is not only family-friendly; it also supports mental wellbeing, where flexible working may be beneficial for someone struggling with stress and help them achieve a better work-life balance.
How can employers prepare for these new regulations?
To prepare for these new laws, we recommend employers with workers in the UK take time to understand their obligations, what these changes mean in practical terms, and the steps needed to ensure they are prepared and compliant.
They can also start communicating the changes to their UK employees. These are positive protections for employees who may find themselves in these situations but who may not be aware of the changes in UK law. Also, for those wanting to work flexibly, for whatever reason, the law is on their side in helping to make this request a reality quicker and easier. Communicating and educating employees about their rights will demonstrate that employers care for their workforce and want to ensure they are supported.
It is also the ideal time for employers to review and enhance their existing policies and benefits programs around these themes. By aligning their benefits with the new legislation, they can create a more comprehensive and compassionate benefit strategy.
These family-friendly employment laws can help employers build a more inclusive and supportive working environment and culture, increase their employee engagement and satisfaction as well as improving recruitment and retention. This makes for happy and productive employees and contributes to organizational success.
Anne Terry, Director of Global Benefits Management for Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, wrote this article about the new UK family-friendly laws. If you need support with your employee benefits in the UK, please contact Asinta, and we will put you in touch with Anne.