With millions of unpaid carers around the UK, it’s inevitable that this has an implication on businesses and their staff.

In light of the new Carers Leave Act 2023, which came into force on 6 April 2024, we take a look at what the HR obligations are on employers, and how companies might want to assess their position.

The legal change was a pivotal moment for the UK; allowing workers to take up to five unpaid days off a year to carry out caring responsibilities.

What it means to be a carer

Think about the word carer and there’s a danger we jump to the assumption that this is a person paid to care and doing so in a full-time capacity.

But what about the millions of people who care for a parent, sibling, spouse – or indeed, even someone unrelated, and who is relied upon for voluntary and vital support?

Carers UK estimates that around 9% of the population are providing unpaid care, and in many cases, those same people will also be maintaining a professional career of some kind, bringing in the main household income, and contending with the everyday needs of working life.

Elderly hands together

The new law

From last month, it became law – as part of the new Carers Leave Act – that employees in such circumstances would no longer have to eat into their annual leave entitlement in order to fulfil their caring duties.

Instead, contracted staff now have the right to take unpaid leave, whether to attend appointments with someone, or to step in for care provision if the usual paid-for care routine has had to suddenly change for any reason.

This is a significant step and applies even in such cases as where businesses do not already have their own Carer Leave policy.

What it means to business owners

Through our client work, we have assisted several businesses in implementing their own such policy, and clearly, given the huge number of people this affects across our working population today, it’s a welcome addition to employee benefits.

However, some companies may not feel that they are at the scale or structure that this must be introduced – so for them, they must now be aware of the new Act and their obligations.

What are the key changes?

Central to the Act being used by staff is that, firstly, an employee DOES NOT have to provide proof of the disability affecting the cared-for person, or of the caring duties entailed, in order to have access to the leave.

And, of equally important note, the employer is not entitled to choose to refuse the request for leave.

There could be grounds for which the business leader could request a delay to a carer request (if the business is an extreme situation of some kind), but they should then propose a new option as soon as possible.

What are your obligations?

So, where next if you’re an employer and want to make sure you’re embracing and acknowledging the Act in the most appropriate way?

Here’s our tick list of considerations to explore, but of course, do feel free to contact MAD-HR if you wish to understand the options around a business-specific Carer Leave for your own organisation:

  • Make sure you are up to speed on what the Act entails.
  • Reflect on whether there are specific staff to whom this might feel especially relevant in the immediate term, and share information and resource with them.
  • Update any policies, representing your knowledge of the Act.
  • Consider whether your own Carers Leave policy could be appropriate, and explore with the help of a consultancy who can guide you through your obligations and how to implement within the business.
  • Find out more about caring, perhaps by asking a representative from a carer charity to give a talk at your workplace.

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A special perspective from our founder

As some of you may know, our founder Carole Burman is hugely passionate about supporting carers, and has for a long time served as a Trustee for Suffolk Family Carers.

She says: “Unpaid carers often devote hundreds of hours a year to loved ones, friends and neighbours, and they really are delivering a priceless resource in doing so.

“It’s vitally important that employers understand what the implications of caring responsibilities are for staff, and that they do all they can to be supportive.”

For more information on carers leave or any other HR matter, why not sign up for a free 30-minute consultation? Contact us today to see how we could help.