Three pieces of family-related legislation have recently received royal assent, which is where a bill has completed all parliamentary stages in both Houses of Parliament.
These three government-backed pieces of legislation relate to neonatal care leave, protection from redundancy in relation to maternity leave and carers leave.
These new Acts will introduce additional rights for parents and carers in certain circumstances, and the Government hopes that they will ‘increase workforce participation, protect vulnerable workers, and level the playing field’. The Government has stated that the legislation will come into force in ‘due course’, once they have set out secondary legislation confirming further details and commencement dates.
Who is entitled to paid neonatal leave?
The first piece of new ‘family friendly’ legislation concerns neonatal care leave and pay. Neonatal care is specialist care provided to babies born prematurely or sick.
The new law recognises the difficulties working parents with babies who are admitted to neonatal care face after birth. The intention is that this Act will allow eligible parents whose baby is admitted to neonatal care to take up to 12 weeks of paid neonatal care leave.
This will enable those parents to prioritise the care of their newborn, without the financial burden of taking unpaid time off from work or the worry about having to return to work while their baby is still receiving hospital care.
Notably, the paid leave for eligible parents will be in addition to existing entitlement to maternity and paternity leave, and is not intended to replace existing leave that new parents are already entitled to.
This is an important point for employers to consider. There are still further details awaited, which will be confirmed once secondary legislation is in place, including conditions of entitlement.
Protection from redundancy for parents and carers
The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act will extend existing protections in relation to redundancy.
Currently, additional rights on redundancy apply to employees on maternity leave, adoption leave or shared parental leave whose job is at risk of redundancy. Employers are required to give these employees first refusal on any suitable alternative vacancy. Note that this does not prohibit making such employees redundant where no such vacancy exists.
Under the new Act, this statutory protection will extend and apply from when the employee informs their employer they are pregnant, until 18 months after the birth of the child. This development aims to promote gender equality and protect the rights of working parents, ensuring that parents are not unfairly disadvantaged due to pregnancy, or in the first few months on return from parental leave.
Who will be eligible for carer’s Leave?
The final piece of legislation which has received royal assent introduces a new concept of carer’s leave. This provides five days of flexible unpaid leave per year for employees who care for a dependant with long-term care needs.
For the purposes of this legislation, a ‘long-term care need’ is defined as: an illness or injury that requires care for more than three months, a disability, or requirement for care due to old age.
To allow for flexibility, this unpaid leave can be taken in full or half days. The detailed regulations that will follow in due course will clarify a number of points, including rights to return from carers leave, provisions about notice to employers and protection from dismissal or redundancy during unpaid carer’s leave.
Together, these three Acts recognise that new parents and carers face challenges in balancing their work lives with the need to prioritise, support and care for loved ones during difficult times.
It is hoped that the legislation will relieve parents and carers of some emotional and financial pressure, given that at present, it is likely that these individuals need to take unpaid leave to fulfil their caring responsibilities.
Employers should ensure that they are aware of the upcoming changes, and consider how they can prepare for them to be introduced in the workplace. This could commence with an update to policies and handbooks, making sure employees are aware of their entitlements and considering how new rights will interact with existing policies moving forward.