Proposal: A year’s unpaid leave to care for a relative

The Conservative party have proposed introducing a statutory right for workers to take a year’s unpaid leave to care for a relative – so what are my thoughts on this as a business owner and HR professional?

Business owner and HR professional viewpoint

I believe the proposal of a year’s statutory unpaid leave to care for a relative could make it easier for businesses to deal with employees taking time out for care. The proposal could actually minimise disruption to the business rather than say an employee taking ad-hoc time off to care for a loved one. We already know that sporadic absence is problematic for businesses, hence why the Bradford Factor has become such a popular tool to use as part of managing employee absence.

However, a relative requiring care can come about quite suddenly, from an older person having a stroke, to a younger person having a freak accident that incapacitates them. So the potential desire for an employee to want to take the proposed leave immediately in these cases could leave businesses feeling very concerned.

On the upside, the business will know the duration of time that the employee will be taking off and as the plans suggest this will be unpaid leave, businesses will have the option of hiring someone to cover for the duration of the leave, such as they would for maternity cover.

I think many small businesses will see the proposal as problematic, especially as they’ve already had to get to grips with an increase in family friendly policies and work-life balance over recent years. However, in response to these views and leaving absence aside, I’d question the impact on an affected employee’s productivity and engagement in the workplace. Are they going to be performing at their best if also dealing with the challenging situation of care and wishing they could do more for their loved one?

There are many factors that need to be considered on such a proposal – what constitutes a relative for a start? I would assume that the accrual of annual leave would cease whilst the employee is off, along with other employee benefits, but that their continuity of employment would be preserved. These are all things which would need to be known before we could really assess the potential impact and costs to businesses.

This isn’t a black and white approach, but overall if implemented effectively this proposal could be a win-win for both employers and employees. Despite being unpaid, I think the employee would still benefit from knowing that their job is secure at the end of their leave period.

My thoughts on the proposals were first published in The Telegraph – A year’s unpaid leave for carers – what do SMEs think? 

On a personal note

If you’re wondering why I chose the featured image of this post…my husband took the photo of my family and I around our table on Christmas evening 2016. My paternal Grandmother is at the head of the table. Little did I realise at the time, that this would be the last Christmas she would be able to spend in our home.

My Grandmother suffered a stroke in February 2017 meaning she’s no longer independent, requires round the clock care and, 4 months on, we are waiting to see where and how she will be cared for longer term. From personal experience, I can see that for my father (an only child), it’s been a long 4 months with long days as he’s continued to commute and work full time, whilst visiting his mother daily and dealing with the situation.

So personally, I can certainly see the value of the proposed right to up to 12 months leave for my father. I just hope this is the reasoning behind this proposal, as opposed to a cost effective, sticky plaster approach to dealing with our ageing population and headlines of the social care sector facing collapse.

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