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guidance, Policy

The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 – what it means

The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 came into force on 6 April, on the same day as the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023.

We’ve covered the Flexible Working Act 2023 act in a previous blog, so today we’ll examine the Carer’s Leave Act 2023 and what it means for employees and employers.

The Government first presented proposals for introducing a minimum legal entitlement of leave for caring responsibilities in 2020. When they consulted on these proposals – for 5 days’ unpaid leave per year as a statutory minimum – we formed our response based on the views and experiences of our members, and especially of employees who balance work with caring for other people.

What does the Act do?

The Act aims to help people who balance caring responsibilities for other people (which could be partners or relatives, for example) with jobs, by setting a legal minimum amount of time employees can take off each year specifically for these responsibilities. This new minimum is one week per year (based on the employees’ typical working week), which is available to be taken in day and half-day increments. It is unpaid leave, and employees must give their employers notice before taking it.

The Act is in many ways an important step. Previously, employees had no specific entitlement for this kind of time off, paid or unpaid, despite a great many working people having unpaid caring responsibilities. The Government rightly recognised that working carers needed more support.

Are the proposals enough for working carers?

But, in a similar way to the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023, it is a positive step rather than being a wide-ranging “fix”. The first issue is that this statutory minimum is unpaid. Carer’s leave should be paid – where it is not, working carers do not just face an unequal financial penalty for looking after others, but may also be discouraged from using their entitlement at all, instead opting to use other forms of (more commonly paid) leave like annual leave, disability leave and sick leave. The latter scenario was, sadly, a common theme that came through from employees when we sought their views for our initial response to the proposals in 2020.

The result was employees who felt unable to meet the demands either of their jobs, or of their caring responsibilities. This meant unsustainable levels of stress, but also a sense of despair and guilt. One employee told us: “You feel you are not doing all you should be at work, and you feel you are not doing everything you should be for the person you are caring for.”

Indeed, the reaction of working carers and carers’ employee networks to carer’s leave proposals in 2020 were often quite stark. “Slap in the face,” was a phrase used by one carer; another thought it was a positive step at least, but wouldn’t be a viable option for most carers if it was unpaid. None agreed with an assumption, voiced in the consultation, that “2to 3 days is sufficient in most cases”. On the contrary, each carer we spoke to said that they, or carers they worked with, used more than 5 days per year for caring responsibilities.

What’s more, many of the employers we spoke to also offered more leave to working carers than the proposed entitlement – and as paid leave. One employer was “taken aback” by the proposals. Others noted that offering sufficient paid carer’s leave wasn’t a cost, but more of an investment in keeping employees healthy and engaged.

What can employers do to support working carers?

To support employees who have caring responsibilities, we recommend that employers:

  • Offer paid carer’s leave which can be taken flexibly. Allowing working carers to take paid time off flexibly makes them better able to balance it with work.
  • Provide a supportive environment. Line managers should be equipped to properly support staff who have care responsibilities, through training, information, and robust policies.
  • Help carers find the information they need. Many carers struggle to access information about available services and support. Employers can help either by allowing carers time to research or providing resources themselves for employees.
  • Encourage carers to create a forum. Peer support and workplace networks are a hugely valuable way to ensure working carers feel supported, offering a space to share experiences and guidance.
  • Understand that many with caring responsibilities will not think of themselves as “carers”. Many employees will need time off to support someone who depends on them, but may not view this a care or view themselves as a carer. Employers should still support these employees with paid leave, flexibility, and information. In other words, someone may need “carer’s leave” regardless of whether they think of themselves as a carer.

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