Statutory carer's leave: How will the new employment right work?

Author: Stephen Simpson

The Government has confirmed its plans for the introduction of a statutory right to carer's leave. How will this new type of leave operate and what impact will it have on how employers support carers?

Key resources

Good practice manual: Supporting employees with caring responsibilities

Policy on supporting carers

In its 2019 manifesto, the Government committed to introducing an employment right to unpaid leave for carers.

A public consultation ran from 16 March until 3 August 2020. The Government published its consultation response on 23 September 2021.

The entitlement to carer's leave will apply in England, Wales and Scotland. However, the entitlement will not apply in Northern Ireland because the implementation of employment laws is devolved.

The Government says that it will introduce legislation to implement carer's leave "when parliamentary time allows".

1. Who will be eligible for carer's leave?

Carer's leave will be a "day one right", meaning that staff will not require a minimum period of service.

Entitlement to the leave will depend on the relationship between the carer and the person being cared for, who must be a dependant who has a:

  • long-term care need (ie they have a long-term illness or injury or a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010, or they have issues related to old age); or
  • terminal illness.

"Dependants" will be defined in broadly similar terms to the right to time off for dependants. The definition under that right is an employee's spouse, civil partner, child or parent, a person who lives in the same household as the employee (but not by reason of being their employee, tenant, lodger or boarder) or anyone who reasonably relies on the employee for assistance if they are ill or injured.

2. What will employees be able to use carer's leave for?

Employees will be able to use the leave to provide care or to make arrangements for care to be provided.

Although the Government maintains that it is important for carer's leave to focus on dependants who have long-term care needs, the legislation will not have strict rules around the length of care needed.

The leave may also be used to provide care for someone who reasonably depends on the employee for care while their primary carer is taking respite.

3. How much carer's leave will an employee be able to take?

Did you know?

According to Carers UK, there are around 6.5 million carers in the UK and three million of them combine paid work with unpaid caring responsibilities for an older, disabled or sick relative, partner or friend. This means that approximately one employee in nine in every workplace has caring responsibilities.

Employees will be able to take five days' carer's leave per year.

They will be able to take this leave flexibly, including as individual or half days.

However, employers may choose to enhance this entitlement by increasing the number of days of carer's leave that they offer.

4. Will carer's leave be paid?

Carer's leave will be unpaid.

However, there will be nothing to stop employers from enhancing carer's leave, for example by continuing to pay employees their normal wages.

Paid carer's leave could prove to be a valuable tool in the armoury of employers that are seeking to support carers within their workforce (see below for some examples of organisations that have done this).

5. What evidence will be required to take carer's leave?

With the Government taking a light touch to evidence requirements, employers will be able to ask employees to self-certify that they are eligible for carer's leave.

Employees will not be required to provide evidence to support their request for the leave, such as evidence of the condition of the dependant. This would raise difficult issues for employers around managing sensitive personal or medical information related to a third party.

Similarly, employees will not have to provide evidence of the specific caring activities that they are undertaking during the leave.

6. How much notice will be required to take carer's leave?

Employees will be required to give notice to their employer that they would like to take carer's leave.

This notice will be in line with the notice requirements for annual leave, where the employee must give notice that is at least twice the length of time being requested as leave.

Employers will be able to give a counter-notice to postpone the leave request, but only where the employer considers that the operation of their business would be unduly disrupted.

7. How will carer's leave interact with time off for dependants?

Did you know?

The European Parliament has formally adopted the Directive on the Work-Life Balance of Parents and Carers (2019/1158/EC). Among other things, the Directive will give workers the right to five days' unpaid carer's leave each year. The implementation deadline for EU member states is 2 August 2022.

A key reason for having a notice period is that employees already have the statutory right to (unpaid) time off for dependants, which they can use to deal with an unexpected event and to make alternative caring arrangements.

The notice requirements are more fluid for time off for dependants - the employee must inform the employer "as soon as reasonably practicable" of the reason for their absence. The employee must also tell the employer how long they expect to be absent.

A likely scenario for carers who have to deal with a situation involving their dependant will be that they initially take time off for dependants to deal with the emergency, followed by carer's leave. It is therefore going to be important for employers to:

  • explain the difference between the two types of leave to employees; and
  • work out how the two types of leave are going to interact, particularly when a carer who has been dealing with an emergency could be switching from time off for dependants straight to carer's leave.

8. What effect will carer's leave have on other types of leave?

Employers will need to think about where this new statutory leave entitlement fits in with other types of leave that they offer.

For example, some employers will already have a system of compassionate, special or family leave, or career breaks, on either a paid or unpaid basis.

Employment protections

As is the case with other leave entitlements, employees will be protected from detriment for taking carer's leave. A dismissal connected with exercising the right to carer's leave will be automatically unfair.

Some employers are ahead of the game and already offer contractual carer's leave. Other employers may offer flexible leave arrangements to carers to recognise the specific challenges that they face in balancing work with their caring responsibilities.

Responses to the consultation suggest that carers commonly use annual leave to balance their caring responsibilities and work.

The consultation response suggests that the new entitlement to carer's leave could:

  • reduce carers' over-reliance on using annual leave; and
  • contribute to carers' wellbeing by reducing the likelihood of them needing sick leave because of burnout or stress.

Examples of employer initiatives to support carers

  • Aviva offers 35 hours' paid carer's leave per year for planned events, plus a further 35 hours per year for emergencies. It also provides the same entitlement to unpaid leave as parents with dependent children.
  • Centrica provides carers with 10 days' paid carer's leave, in addition to the option to take a further 10 days, if each one is matched by a day from the employee's annual leave allowance. In practice, this means that carers can take up to 30 days' leave for caring responsibilities.
  • The civil service has produced guidance for line managers to encourage a consistent and sympathetic approach to requests for special leave from carers. There are also departmental carers' charters to provide signposts for carers and their managers to information and policies on such topics as flexible working, special leave and career breaks. The civil service carer's passport provides a record of the support being provided.
  • Nationwide gives employees who are carers the option of up to five extra days' paid leave through its family support leave. Employees who need further time off because they have caring responsibilities for a sick, disabled or elderly partner or relative can take up to 13 weeks' unpaid leave. 
  • Natwest Group provides employees who have one year's service a total of 18 weeks' unpaid carer's leave, four weeks of which can be taken each year. The amount of leave is pro-rated for part-time staff. Line managers are encouraged to accept valid requests for carer's leave where possible.