Esther Enyinnaya | 25 Mar 2024

New employment law changes in effect from April

A wave of new employment law amendments come into effect next month, enhancing protections for pregnant workers, expanding coverage of flexible-working entitlements and increasing support for unpaid carers.

Employment Rights (Flexible Working) Act 2023

New legislation effective from 6 April entitles employees to request flexible working arrangements from their first day of employment – as opposed to 26 weeks as is currently the case. Additionally, the law mandates that employees can now make two statutory requests within a 12-month period, instead of just one, and employers have a new legal obligation to consult with staff regarding any denied requests.

The trade union UNISON has expressed the view that while this law marks a ‘step in the right direction’ it remains too easy for employers to reject flexible working requests. This follows its recent survey of 44,000 women working in the public sector, which found that almost half (47%) of respondents had sought some form of flexibility in their roles to attain a better work-life balance. However, 30% of those respondents, who worked in settings such as hospitals, schools, police forces and other key services, had their requests for flexible working denied.

Carer’s Leave Act 2023

Also from this April, all qualifying employees will have the right to statutory carer’s leave if they have to care for a dependant long-term, in a move intended to support individuals who need to balance caregiving responsibilities with their work commitments. The Act allows a maximum of one week’s unpaid leave per year to care for a dependant who is disabled, elderly or ill. Employers cannot refuse an individual’s request for carer’s leave but may postpone the leave if the business will be affected by the employee’s absence. According to Carers UK, the pandemic significantly increased the number of employees who are unpaid carers. On average, 600 employees a day leave work to care for someone.

Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023

Pregnant workers and those returning from maternity, paternity or adoption leave will be included among those safeguarded from redundancy in April – as per amendments to the Employment Rights Act. Under the current law, only employees on maternity, paternity and adoption leave have special protection from redundancy. The new legislation extends protection to expectant employees throughout the entirety of their pregnancy and for up to 18 months after their child is born. Employers must exercise caution when contemplating or executing workforce restructuring, since failure to adhere to these regulations could result in potential claims of sex discrimination, unfair dismissal, and uncapped compensation.