Parents’ rights are bolstered

Keep It Legal.

New employment law regulations came into force on 6 April 2024, improving the rights of employees and giving them more flexibility. 

These changes affect parents and carers in particular, allowing them to take leave or request flexible working arrangements to take care of their families without the worry of losing their job.

Lawyer Henrietta Donnelly discusses what these changes mean for independent practitioners and what employers should do to ensure they are following the law and protecting their employees.

New regulations relating to maternity leave, adoption leave and shared parental leave extend the previous statutory protections against redundancy for employees, covering pregnancy and a period after returning to work.

Key points of the Maternity Leave, Adoption Leave and Shared Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations

Employees on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave must be offered any suitable alternative employment opportunities when faced with the possibility of redundancy during their leave period, prioritising them over other employees also facing redundancy.

This protected period has been extended to up to 18 months from the child’s birth/adoption – or entry into UK for overseas adoptions – for employees on maternity or adoption leave.

For employees taking shared parental leave, the duration of the protected period varies. For those taking six or more consecutive weeks, the protected period is 18 months after the birth, placement or entry into UK. For those taking less than six weeks, the protections only last for the duration of leave.

The new protections apply to new parents returning from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave, and pregnant employees who disclose their pregnancies to their employer on or after 6 April 2024. 

If an employee suffers a miscarriage, the protected period lasts for two weeks after the end of the pregnancy, if before 24 weeks. If the pregnancy ends after 24 weeks, the employee is entitled to full statutory maternity leave and the full protected period of 18 months after the date of birth. 

Changes to paternity leave

New regulations changing how employees can take paternity leave following birth or adoption have also been introduced. 

As with the maternity, adoption and shared parental leave, these new regulations will apply to employees taking paternity leave when the birth or adoption is on or after 6 April 2024.

Key points of paternity leave

The maximum duration of paternity leave is still two weeks. But employees can now choose to take their leave and pay as two non-consecutive weeks, rather than one block.

Employees can take this leave at any time during the first year following the birth or adoption, extended from the previous period of the first eight weeks. This offers new parents more flexibility and allows them to take their leave when it best suits their family.

Paternity leave cannot be taken after shared parental leave. If an employee wishes to take shared parental leave and paternity leave, they must take the paternity leave first.

The notice period required for each period of leave has been shortened to 28 days, providing expectant parents increased flexibility when preparing for this change.

Carer’s leave regulations

Previous regulations permitted workers to take a ‘fair’ amount of leave to look after their dependents under specific conditions. 

However, these limitations pose difficulties for employees who shoulder additional duties as unpaid carers. The Carer’s Leave Regulations 2024 give employees more flexibility to care for their dependents without worrying about work.

Key points of carer’s leave

Employees will have a ‘day one’ right to request unpaid carer’s leave – previously only available after 26 weeks of qualifying service.

Employees can take up to one week of unpaid carer’s leave in any rolling 12-month period in consecutive or non-consecutive periods, from a minimum of one half working day.

Employees must give notice of at least twice the length of the period of leave requested or, if longer, three days. For example, Four days’ notice for two days of leave, two weeks’ notice for one week of leave and so on.

Notice can be given verbally, but it must mention the entitlement of carer’s leave to be valid.

Employers can postpone leave if there is a legitimate business reason, but must allow the employee to take the leave within one month of the request.

Employers are required to consult with their employees to explore available options before postponing a leave request.

Employees are not required to provide evidence of their entitlement to carer’s leave.

Employees can bring an Employment Tribunal claim if their employer has unreasonably postponed, prevented or attempted to prevent their request.

Improved flexible working

The Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023 (SI 2023/1328) and the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 have introduced additional changes to workers’ rights, giving employees more ability to request flexible work schedules. 

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has replaced its code of practice on flexible working requests to reflect the new law.

Key points of flexible work

> As with the new carer’s leave, the requirement of 26 weeks’ service has been scrapped and employees now have a ‘day one’ right to make up to two requests to change their working pattern, hours or place of work within any 12-month period.

> All requests must be in writing and state that it is a statutory request for flexible working. It must contain the date of the request, the details of the changes requested and the date the employee would like the changes to come into effect. 

> Employers must handle requests in a reasonable manner and carefully assess the implications for the employee and the business.

> Employers must decide on a request within two months of receiving it. Once a decision has been made, the employer must inform the employee in writing without unreasonable delay.

> Employers must agree to flexible working requests unless there is a genuine business reason not to. The business reasons must be one of – or a combination of –the eight potential reasons set out in section 80(G)of the Employ­ment Rights Act 1996.

> Employers must not reject a request without consulting the employee first, to discuss other potential options.

> Though there is no statutory right to appeal a decision about flexible working requests, employers are advised to offer the right to appeal to avoid other potential grievances.

What do these changes mean for private doctors?

If you work in a private practice and employ workers, you must ensure you are compliant with the new regulations. We recommend you:

 Review and update all policies and processes relating to leave, redundancy, and flexible working to reflect the new regulations.

 Provide employees with notice of the changes in writing, clearly setting out their rights and any new procedures they must follow.

 Offer employees the opportunity to discuss the changes and ask any questions they may have.

One essential point to note is the difference between the rights of salaried employees and those in a partnership. 

If you are a partner in a private practice, your rights are determined by the terms of your partnership agreement. 

In light of these changes, we recommend that you review and update your partnership agreement to ensure both you and your business are protected.

Henrietta Donnelly is a solicitor at specialist healthcare law firm Hempsons. If you would like more information on this subject, please email Henrietta at