New employment legislation to come into effect on 6th April 2024

Paternity leave changes

The main changes to statutory paternity leave are:

  • New flexibility is being introduced, allowing employees to take two separate one-week blocks of leave rather than having to take a single period of one or two weeks’ paternity leave.
  • Employees will be entitled to take paternity leave at any time in the first year after the child’s birth or adoption, rather than having to take it within the first eight weeks.
  • The notice period for specifying when the employee wants to take paternity leave in cases of birth is reduced from 15 weeks to 28 days.

These changes apply for children whose expected week of childbirth is after 6th April 2024 and children whose expected date of placement for adoption is on or after 6th April 2024.

Flexible working changes

The Government is changing the statutory right to request flexible working from 6th April 2024:

  • The right to request flexible working will become a Day One right.  There will no longer be a 26-week qualifying period.
  • Employees may make two requests (rather than one) in a 12-month period (but employers don’t need to accept a new request if the first one is still being processed).
  • Employees no longer need to set out the impact on the business or give suggestions for mitigating that impact as part of their request.
  • The employer needs to consult the employee before making any decision.
  • The request must be processed within two (rather than three) months of receiving it, unless the parties agree otherwise.

Acas’s revised draft Code of Practice on Flexible Working taking account of these changes is awaiting approval by Parliament, and is expected to come into effect in April 2024.

Extending enhanced protection from redundancy

The Maternity Leave, Adoption Leave, and Shared Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations are due to take effect on or after 6th April 2024. Together with the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023, these regulations will extend existing redundancy protection to pregnant employees and new parents returning from a period of maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.

In a redundancy situation, employers must currently offer an employee on maternity leave, shared parental leave, or adoption leave a suitable alternative vacancy within the organisation (where one exists). In practice, these employees receive a priority offer of any alternative employment and have enhanced protection from redundancy.

The legislation will extend this protection to pregnancy, from the point at which the employee tells their employer that they’re pregnant and for 18 months after the child is born. However, if the employee is not entitled to statutory maternity pay, this protection will end two weeks after the end of their pregnancy.

In adoption, this 18-month period begins when the child was placed or entered Great Britain.

This also extends to parents taking six or more consecutive weeks of shared parental leave who have not taken maternity or adoption leave.

In all these cases, the protection will continue even if the employee returns to work during the additional protection period.

Carer’s Leave

The Carer’s Leave Regulations 2024 are expected to come into force on 6th April 2024.

The draft regulations indicate that employees will be entitled to up to one week’s unpaid leave in each 12-month rolling period from day one to ‘provide or arrange care for a dependant with a long-term care need’. They will also be entitled to return to the same job as they were doing before the leave was taken.

Importantly, the leave doesn’t need to be taken in one block.  It can be taken at a minimum of a half-day at a time. There are minimum notice periods required to be able to take the leave, and while employers can’t refuse a request, they can postpone a period of leave by up to one month in certain limited circumstances.

What should you do now?

April will soon be here.  Make sure you understand the changes and how they will affect your business.

Review your current policies and procedures and update them if needed, in line with the new employee rights and associated employer obligations. While these are the statutory minimum requirements, you may wish to exceed the minimum statutory leave and pay entitlements when considering your family-friendly policies.

Alongside any policy and procedure updates, you must communicate policy changes with employees and educate and train managers on the practical effect on the business.