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Family-friendly rights - Employment law update for higher education institutions

on Wednesday, 07 February 2024.

As we step into 2024, universities are gearing up for new family-friendly rights that are set to come into force over the next few months. These changes aim to create a more supportive and inclusive workplace for employees with family responsibilities.

So, what are those rights and how can universities prepare?

Amendments to paternity leave

In draft regulations published by the Government, fathers/partners will have the option to take paternity leave more flexibly, including the ability to take the leave within the first 52 weeks after a child's birth/adoption (rather than within the current eight weeks after birth/adoption).

Fathers/partners will continue to be able to take the leave in a single block of two weeks, but under the changes, as an alternative, they will have the option of taking two separate one week blocks.

In most cases, the draft regulations provide for a new streamlined process for giving notice to take paternity leave, reducing the timescale from 15 weeks before the expected week of childbirth to just four weeks (for domestic adoption cases, the notice period for leave will remain within seven days of the adopter having received notice of being matched with a child as the adoption process is inherently less predictable than birth and children may be placed at short notice of being matched with their adoptive parents). Fathers and partners who have given notice to take paternity leave may vary the dates given if they give 28 days' notice of the variation, enabling them to change dates to best suit the needs of their families.

The regulations are due to come into force on 8 March 2024 and the amendments will apply to babies whose expected week of birth is after 6 April 2024 and to children whose expected date of placement for adoption, or expected date of entry into Great Britain for adoption, is on or after 6 April 2024.

Flexible working to become a day one right

From 6 April 2024 employees will no longer need to have 26 weeks' continuous service in order to make a request for flexible working, they may do so from day one of their employment.

It is also anticipated that other changes associated with the right to request flexible working will come into effect from 6 April 2024:

  • When making a request, an employee will no longer have to explain what effect, if any, the employee thinks their requested change would have on the employer and how any such effect might be dealt with
  • The current limitation restricting an employee to one request in any 12-month period will change to allowing two requests in any 12-month period
  • An employer will not be able to refuse a request without consulting with the employee; and
  • The time limit for an employer to make a decision will be reduced from three months to two (although the parties can agree a longer period)

Enhanced maternity, adoption and shared parental leave rights

Currently an employee at risk of redundancy who is on maternity leave/adoption leave/shared parental leave has an automatic right to be offered any suitable alternative employment, if such roles are available. At present, that enhanced protection only applies during the period of leave.

However, from 6 April 2024, employees who are pregnant or returning from maternity/adoption/shared parental leave will have their period of enhanced protection extended.

The new law will provide the following protection:

  • For pregnant employees, from the date they notify their employer of the pregnancy, up until 18 months from the child's date of birth
  • For employees who have suffered a miscarriage before 24 weeks of pregnancy, from the date they notify their employer of the pregnancy until two weeks after the end of the pregnancy (for pregnancies ending after 24 weeks the employee would be entitled to maternity leave and protection as above)
  • For employees taking adoption leave, from the beginning of adoption leave until 18 months of the date of placement or, in cases of adoptions overseas, until 18 months from the date of entry into Great Britain
  • For employees taking shared parental leave of six weeks or more, from the beginning of that leave until 18 months from the child's date of birth
  • For employees taking less than six weeks shared parental leave, the protected period applies from the beginning of that leave until the end of that leave

A new right to neonatal leave

New proposals seek to provide parents with additional paid leave when their new-born baby requires prolonged medical attention. This addresses the critical period of neonatal care, acknowledging the physical and emotional toll it takes on parents. The aim is to offer flexibility and support during what can be an incredibly challenging time.

Parents will be entitled to up to 12 weeks' leave for babies who are admitted to hospital up to the age of 28 days and who stay in hospital for at least seven days. This is set to become a day one right, requiring no period of continuous employment in order to take it.  However, for those with less than 26 weeks' continuous service with their employer, there will be no right to receive statutory pay for this time off.  There will be statutory pay available for those who have at least 26 weeks' service.

Whilst confirmation of the date on which these proposals will come into force is yet to be confirmed, it is anticipated that it will be in early 2025.

A new right to carer's leave

From 6 April 2024 employees who have a dependant with a long-term care need will be entitled to take one week's unpaid carer's leave in each rolling 12 month period. This will be a day one right and the leave may be taken in either individual days or half days, up to a block of one week.

The required period of notice (which does not need to be in writing) will be either twice as many days as the period of leave required, or three days, whichever is the greater.

As with other types of statutory leave, an employee will be protected from detriment and dismissal for taking or seeking to take carer's leave.


Universities should review and update their existing policies to align with the new regulations and consider the introduction of new policies where no such provision currently exists. For many universities this will involve engagement with employees and trade unions.

For more information please contact Katie Hurst in our Employment team on 07384 545 711, or complete the form below.

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