As we continue to grapple with COVID with a return to working from home for many of us, the pandemic is likely to continue to dominate workplace issues into 2022. The question of policies on vaccination and hybrid working are a continuing headache for many employers. But the pace of the usual changes in employment law shows no sign of letting up either and we round up below the other changes which may come our way in the New Year, depending on whether the government finds parliamentary time to introduce them. On that we make no comment.

Neonatal leave and pay

This proposed new form of leave for parents has been on the horizon for a number of years,   but we are still awaiting implementation. The proposal is designed primarily to assist new parents whose baby requires neonatal care in hospital, for example after a premature birth or where there are complications at birth, or the baby is “experiencing serious health conditions shortly after birth.

For the parents to be eligible for neonatal leave, the baby would have to be in neonatal care for at least two continuous weeks immediately after birth. It is envisaged that it will be a ‘Day 1 right’, with no qualifying period of service.

Changes to the right to request flexible working procedure

Hailed as a move to support long term adoption of hybrid working and a more flexible approach to working life, the government consultation on flexible working closed on 1 December 2021. It sought views on possible changes to the flexible working regulations, including a proposal to make flexible working requests available from Day 1 of employment. It also canvassed views on making flexible working the default position for all. Many roles cannot easily be carried out from home, or on a flexible basis, so it will be interesting to see how far any new legislation goes in changing the current rules. There is no timetable for the publishing of the results of the consultation and it is likely to be some time before we see any legislative change.

Statutory right to carer’s leave

A further change which is promised, but again with no timetable for implementation, is the proposed introduction of another ‘Day 1’ right to take leave to care for a dependent. The leave will be unpaid and will be available for carers of dependents who have a terminal illness or long-term care need. Employees will be able to use up to 5 days’ unpaid leave to provide care or to make arrangements for care to be provided. The proposal includes a requirement that employees give two weeks’ notice of a wish to take a week’s leave.

Enhanced protection from redundancy for pregnant employees & those on maternity leave, adoption leave or shared parental leave

The Maternity and Parental Leave regulations mean that an employee who is put at risk of redundancy during their maternity leave is entitled to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy, in preference to other employees who are also at risk of redundancy. A failure to offer an available suitable alternative vacancy renders the employee’s subsequent redundancy dismissal automatically unfair.

Following consultation in 2019, the government expressed its intention to extend the protection available for pregnant employees and for new parents returning from certain types of family leave. It proposes to extend the protection period so that it applies as soon as an employee informs her employer of her pregnancy, and it will last for six months following the end of maternity leave, even if she does not immediately return to work because of another form of leave at that point. The proposal is also expected to extend the protected period for those taking adoption leave, so that they are covered for six months following the end of adoption leave. The government also aspires to afford protection those taking shared parental leave for a period of time after they return to work.

As soon as we know more about the proposed implementations, we’ll update you.