Flexible working and Carer’s Leave – New rights for employees in April 2024

Flexible working and Carer’s Leave – New rights for employees in April 2024

A number of new employment law regulations will come into effect on 6 April 2024 in Scotland, England and Wales, including changes to the statutory flexible working request scheme and the introduction of unpaid carer’s leave. 

Flexible working requests

A flexible working request is a request by an employee to change the terms and conditions of their employment relating to their hours of work, times of work, or place of work. The Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act was passed on 29 July 2023 and these amendments will come into force on 6 April 2024. There are 5 key changes which employers should be aware of:

  1. Right to request flexible working becomes a day 1 right (rather than requiring 26 weeks service)
  2. Employees will be able to make two flexible working requests per year. At present, employees are only entitled to make one request per year.
  3. The requirement for employees to “explain what effect, if any, the employee thinks making the change applied for would have on his employer and how, in his opinion, any such effect might be dealt with” has been removed.
  4. Employers must consult with their employees before rejecting a flexible working request. There has been debate as to how much consultation will be required from employers to meet this requirement and, at present, this remains unclear.
  5. Decisions on flexible working requests must be made within two months (rather than the current limit of 3 months) unless a longer period is agreed with the employee.

It is possible that the volume of statutory flexible working requests will increase. However, requests can still be rejected by relying on one of the eight business grounds set out in law, which include the inability to reorganise work amongst other staff and an expected negative effect on performance.  Employers should consider how requests could be accommodated and provide training for management on how to consult with employees who make such requests. Flexible working policies should also be reviewed and updated ahead of 6 April 2024 to take account of the changes.

Carer’s leave

The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 was passed on 24 May 2023 and introduced a new statutory right to unpaid carer’s leave. The new law will come into force on 6 April 2024 and provides that an employee who has a dependant with a long-term care need may take one week’s unpaid leave to provide or arrange care in each rolling 12-month period.

A person is a “dependant” for the purposes of carer’s leave if they:

  • Are a spouse, civil partner, child or parent of the employee.
  • Live in the same household as the employee, otherwise than by reason of being the employee’s boarder, employee, lodger or tenant, or reasonably rely on the employee to provide or arrange care.

A dependant has a “long-term care need” for these purposes if:

  • they have an illness or injury (whether physical or mental) that requires, or is likely to require, care for more than three months.
  • They have a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
  • They require care for a reason connected with their old age.

An employer cannot decline a request but may postpone carer’s leave where all of the following apply:

  • The employer reasonably considers that the operation of the business would be unduly disrupted if it allowed the leave during the requested period.
  • The employer allows the employee to take a period of carer’s leave of the same duration, within a month of the period initially requested.
  • The employer gives the employee a written notice within seven days of the initial request, setting out the reason for the postponement and the agreed dates on which the leave can be taken.

Employers should consider introducing and/or updating any carer’s leave policy to reflect the forthcoming changes. Employees who already benefit from a contractual right to take carer’s leave will only be permitted to take advantage of whichever right (contractual or statutory) is more favourable. If you would like to discuss any aspect of this blog, please contact a member of our Employment Law Team.

This update contains general information only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice.

Katie Hendry, Solicitor: khe@bto.co.uk / 0141 221 8012 / Connect with Katie on LinkedIn