Are you ready for the new legislation coming into force on 6 April 2024?

It is not only the beginning of a new tax year on 6 April 2024, but a number of employment law changes are coming into effect on this day. We have previously written about the changes to Employment Tribunal compensation limits and to paternity leave which you can read here, but there are also substantive changes due to come into force impacting the rights of employees in the workplace.

Redundancy protection for those on family-related leave

Currently, the law provides extra protection from redundancy for individuals during their period of family leave through the automatic right to be offered suitable vacancies. This is a rare instance of lawful positive discrimination, as those, for example, on maternity leave have priority over other employees.

From 6 April 2024, employees will not only have protection during their period of family leave, but will benefit from extended protection as follows:

Pregnancy

Protection from redundancy will begin when the employee notifies the employer of their pregnancy. The initial period of protection will exist until either the employee begins maternity leave or 2 weeks after the end of pregnancy (if they are not entitled to statutory maternity leave).

However, there is then an “additional protected period” where maternity leave is taken, which will end the day after a period of 18 months after either the expected week of childbirth or the child’s date of birth (if the employer is notified of this).

Adoption

Protection from redundancy will start at the beginning of the employee’s period of adoption leave and they will also benefit from an “additional protected period” which will end the day after a period of 18 months from the date either the child is placed with the employee for adoption or the date they enter the UK.

Shared Parental Leave

Shared Parental Leave is often used alongside other periods of family leave. If an employee uses maternity or adoption leave, those protection periods apply instead.

Where Shared Parental Leave is taken, protection will begin from the outset of shared parental leave and will end either at the end of the period of shared parental leave (if less than 6 weeks leave is taken) or the day after the period of 18 months beginning on the day the child is born or is placed with the employee (provided the employee takes more than 6 weeks leave).

Importantly, the changes in the law will apply to leave already taking place in that where a current period of maternity or adoption leave ends on or after 6 April 2024, the new provisions will apply.

The changes will also apply to periods of 6 consecutive weeks shared parental leave which commences on or after 6 April 2024.

Unpaid carer’s leave

The law recognises the need for time off for dependants, but a specific right for those with caring responsibilities will come into force on 6 April 2024.

An employee who has a depdendant with a “long-term care need” can take one week’s unpaid statutory leave to provide or arrange care. The statutory leave can be taken flexibly, in full or half days, up to a maximum of one continuous week in any rolling 12-month period.

An employee can be eligible for this type of leave from the first day of employment. A dependant for the purposes of this leave is a “spouse, civil partner, child or parent” or somebody who lives in the same household as the employee who reasonably relies on the employee. A “long-term care need” includes illnesses or injuries which may require care for more than 3 months, a disability under the Equality Act 2010 or a reason connected to old age.

Importantly, leave requests cannot be declined outright but can be postponed if the employer reasonably considers that its operations would be “unduly disrupted”. The employer will also be required to allow the employee to take leave of the same duration within one month of the first date requested, and to provide written notice within 7 days of the request providing detail on why the postponement was necessary and agreed dates when the employee can take leave.

As with other forms of unpaid statutory leave, the employee will retain the benefit of all their terms and conditions during the leave (except remuneration) and is protected from dismissal or detriment due to the employee taking, or seeking to take, this new form of statutory leave.

Comment

It is important that employers are mindful of the impact these changes could have on their business. In respect of the protection from redundancy, where redundancy dismissals are not due to take effect until after 6 April 2024, an employer risks a claim of automatically unfair dismissal if it fails to offer a suitable alternative vacancy to a protected employee including those in the new “additional protected period”.

Moreover, if an employee has or may have caring responsibilities, from 6 April 2024 they will not only have the right not to be subject to detriment or dismissed due to taking, or seeking to take, unpaid carer’s leave, they will also be able to make a complaint to the Employment Tribunal should an employer unreasonably postpone such leave or prevent/ attempt to prevent the employee from taking this leave.

Employer’s should also be mindful that changes to the flexible working regime are coming into force on 6 April 2024 which will make the right to request flexible working a day one right. You can read about the changes here.

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Chambers and Partners 2022