An award-winning HR Tech entrepreneur and champion of female entrepreneurship from Birmingham, UK

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 minimise disruption to the business rather than, say, an employee taking ad-hoc time off to care for a loved one. We already know sporadic absence is problematic for businesses, hence why the Bradford Factor has become such a popular tool for 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. The potential need for an employee to want to take the proposed leave immediately in these cases could leave businesses feeling concerned.

On the upside, the business will know the duration 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 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 perform at their best if also dealing with the challenging situation of care and wishing they could do more for their loved one?

Many factors must be considered in such a proposal – what constitutes a relative for a start? Would annual leave continue to accrue while the employee takes unpaid time off? Should employee benefits remain in place? Presumably, their continuity of employment would be preserved. Before assessing the potential impact and costs to businesses, these things must be known.

This isn’t a black-and-white approach, but if implemented effectively, this proposal could be a win-win for 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 this post’s featured image, my husband photographed my family and me around our table on Christmas evening in 2016. My paternal Grandmother is at the head of the table. Little did I realise then that this would be the last Christmas she could spend in our home.

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

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

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