In the summer of 2023, the Government introduced a number of new laws and provisions aimed at increasing support for working families. These include offering pregnant women and new parents greater protection against redundancy, expanding free childcare, increasing the current very short term carers leave (emergency unpaid time off for dependents), and introducing paid leave for parents whose newborn babies need specialist Neonatal care.

Despite all these new laws having received royal assent in 2023, they are not coming into force until 2024 (redundancy protection), or are being rolled out over 2024 and 2025 (expanded free childcare). In this employer’s guide we explain the new policies, what they offer working parents, and the implications for businesses and employers. 

Redundancy protection to be extended to pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave

Under the current law, those on maternity leave, shared parental leave or adoption leave, have special protections from redundancy. They have a priority right to a suitable alternative vacancy, if available, before being made redundant.

What’s changing

The new Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 will provide additional protection from redundancy for a further 6 months after maternity and adoption leave ends. The new law also extends the existing protection from redundancy to a wider group of people.

Besides those already protected, currently on maternity leave, shared parental and adoption leave, the new Act extends redundancy protection to:

  • A pregnant employee in a ‘protected period of pregnancy’;
  • An employee who has recently suffered a miscarriage;
  • Returners from maternity leave, adoption leave and shared parental leave

The Act is short on detail and will require regulations from the Government setting out precisely how the new protections will work. These regulations are not expected to come into force before April 2024 (i.e they will be announced during the election campaign).

The ‘protected period of pregnancy’ is likely to begin once the employee informs her employer that she is pregnant. We wait to see the length of protection afforded those (relatively few) returning from shared parental leave. The new Act doesn’t extend redundancy protection to fathers taking paternity leave. This is on the basis that the new provision is designed to ensure that employers don’t make an early judgment on perfomance in the first few months of someone returning to work after a long absence; not often the case in paternity leave.

Why is it changing

The new legislation is designed to shield expectant parents and new parents from workplace discrimination. Government research in 2016 (of 3,254 women and 3,034 employers) showed that a substantial number of women, potentially 54,000 if scaled up to the general population, felt that they had to leave their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity related unfair discrimination.

More recently, in 2022 a flexible working platform “That works for me” surveyed 848 women drawn from across the country, it’s own database and social media, for its report Careers After Babies. The report was given in evidence to a parliamentary All Party Committee. Despite 98% of the respondents stating that they wanted to return to work after becoming mothers, only 13% think its viable on a full-time basis. 85% reported that they had left full-time employment within 3 years of having children because of the struggle to juggle a full time job alongside having a family. This is a big problem not only for mothers themselves, but for businesses who invest heavily in hiring, training and developing women, only to see them leave their roles as the result of a life event that can be planned for.

Key implications for employers

There are no immediate actions for employers, as we have to wait for the regulations in 2024, setting out how the protections will work.

But looking ahead, the Act will afford more employees the right to ‘leapfrog’ others into any suitable alternative vacancies, without having to apply for the role. It will pose a particular headache when running a redundancy exercise in a workforce that is female-dominated, where many employees must be given priority for suitable alternative vacancies. Employers will have to rethink carefully how they approach redundancy and restructuring programs, which may involve them having to decide who to keep on if multiple members of staff covered by the protection are competing for a single role.

In terms of policy, and given the above research data, there are clearly sound reasons in favour of protecting pregnant mothers and new parents from discrimination in redundancy situations, avoiding them having to compete for alternative vacancies at a vulnerable time. The existing and expanded laws do give them priority over other employees and are a rare example of positive lawful discrimination.

Even so, there are bound to be situations where the rules seem unfair to team leaders and employees on the ground, such as where it leads to losing a high achieving employee in favour of one with priority status.

(Some pressure groups argue that the new protections don’t go far enough, because the onus is on the employee to prove there was an unlawful reason for the redundancy, a challenge that is especially daunting for someone who has been absent from workplace for a year, has lost touch with colleagues and what is happening in the business).

Whilst we wait for the regulations to specify the consequences of failing to offer a protected employee a suitable alternative vacancy, it is likely that failure to do so will mean the employee can claim for automatic unfair dismissal (from day 1).
Failure to comply could be expensive, as you can see from the worked example below.

A female employee who is automatically unfairly dismissed for a pregnancy reason is entitled to the following compensation depending on her age, length of service, salary, the conduct of the employer and how long it takes her to get another job

The above amounts are current up to April 2024 when these limits are usually raised in line with inflation.

So when  managing a redundancy situation, remember those of your staff on maternity and other family related leave. Forgetting them could be very expensive. 

Remember also,  it is highly  possible that a parent on maternity leave might wish to be selected for redundancy.  Things are now very different, they have a new baby, they have new challenges to deal with, they might want to stay at home to be with their baby or to work differently. Good managers know their staff, keep in close touch and can be aware of these issues. These conversations can be a minefield because they touch on protected characteristics under the Equality Act. It’s easy for employers to panic but there is no need. Do call us if we can help you to have that conversation. 

Expanding free childcare support

In 2024 and 2025, Childcare support is to be expanded, rolled out in stages and renamed “Tax Free Childcare support”.  

The expanded support is designed help working parents and women especially, an estimated 40% of whom say they work less hours than they would like to due to sky high childcare costs. 

 In 2024 and 2025, Childcare support is to be expanded, rolled out in stages and renamed “Tax Free Childcare support”.  

The expanded support is designed help working parents and women especially, an estimated 40% of whom say they work less hours than they would like to due to sky high childcare costs. 

Who is currently eligible for free childcare?

Under the current system in England, parents of 3-4 year olds who work more (16 hours) a week – and earn less than £100,000 –  are entitled to 30 hours a week free childcare with registered childcare providers (nurseries, childminders, playgroups, pre-school, creches etc).

This equates to 570 hours a year, usually taken as 15 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year (during school term time), but parents can chose to take fewer hours over more weeks.

Free childcare hours currently stop when a child starts in reception class.

What is changing

There will be different schemes in England, Wales and Scotland.

In England, the current scheme will be extended children from  9 months until they start school (5yrs).
Funding will start from the moment maternity or paternity leave ends

This will be introduced in stages from April 2024 to September 2025

All parents in a household must work at least 16 hours  a week at minimum wage to be eligible for the scheme. This is to prevent parents not in work from claiming the benefit.

What additional free childcare support can parents claim in 2024 & 2025 and when?

From April 2024, working parents of 2 year olds have been able to access 15 hours of free care a week.

From September 2024, working parents of children aged between 9 months and 2 years are able to access 15 hours of free childcare

By September 2025, working parents of children aged 9 months and over will be able to access the promised 30 hours (3 days +) of free childcare prior to their children going to school at 5 yrs old. This will be linked to the birth date and the term that the child starts school

Care must be provided by a registered childcare provider, so it cannot be claimed for informal arrangements with grandparents.

The scheme only applies during the 38 weeks of school term time.

The eligibility requirements remain that  all parents in a house hold must work more than 16 hours a week.

Parents can apply on line for a childcare account and get a code for 30 hours to give to their registered provider. Childcare calculator  

Why is it changing

An estimated 40% of parents say they work fewer hours than they would like due to sky-high childcare costs.

Key implications for employers

Part-time workers may want to increase their working hours because more childcare is now subsidised rather than these changes leading to the employment of more part time staff overall.

Existing workers doing more hours would save on the costs of hiring and training new staff.

Different parts of the scheme come into force at different times so signpost your employees to check out their own particular circumstances at and keep an eye on this helpful information page covering the expanding childcare support.

Neonatal Care Act 2023

Previously there was no provision for parents whose babies needed specialist neonatal care and most partners in this position ended up using their two weeks of parental leave to stay at the hospital followed by being on sick leave if the situation continued.

What is changing

This is a new provision that will allow each parent to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave, to spend time with their premature or sick baby who is receiving neonatal care in a hospital or other agreed care setting. 

Neonatal care leave will be a Day one right in addition to maternity and paternity leave.

Why is it changing

In the UK, an estimated 100,000 of the 605,000 babies born each year are admitted to neonatal care. These are the very sick newborn infants who need to have their parents with them whilst they are in specialist neonatal care.

What this means for employers

This is a generous provision, and it is not yet clear who is going to pay for it. The law has been given Royal Assent and is now awaiting a commencement date. This is not anticipated before April 2025 and there still need to be changes to HMRC systems, notices for employers and payroll providers, and extensive secondary legislation and guidance.

Carer’s leave Act 2023

What is it now

Currently, the Carer’s Leave allowance, which is unpaid emergency time off for family and dependants, is only to be used for arranging emergency care and for providing emergency cover. It is not to be used to cover situations that are known about beforehand. It is only available for a short period of time, and after a reasonable period of time the caring responsibility should be covered by another person e.g a paid for carer rather than the employee.

For example, if an employee’s child falls ill, the employee could take time off to go to the doctor and make care arrangements. The employer may then ask the employee to take annual leave or parental leave if the employee want to look after their child for longer.

What’s changing

The new Carer’s Leave provision is a flexible entitlement of one week’s unpaid leave per year for employees who are providing or arranging care for a dependant with a long-term care need.  It can be used for providing the actual care or could be taken to cover the primary unpaid carer taking respite leave or in order to make arrangements for the provision of care.

  • It is a day one right
  • The person being cared for does not need to be a family member or even in the same household. Simply a person who reasonably relies on the employee for care.
  • There does need to be a long term care need that lasts for more than 3 months and the need can be physical, or mental, resulting from an illness or an injury)
  • Employees are able to self-certify their eligibility for carers’ leave.
  • Carers’ leave can be taken flexibly, in either individual days or half days, up to a block of five working days.
  • Employees are required to give notice which would be twice the length of the leave being requested, plus one day.
  • A leave request cannot be denied but may be postponed if it would be unduly disruptive to the operation of the business.
  • Those taking carers’ leave are protected and dismissals for reasons connected with exercising the right to carers’ leave would be automatically unfair.

Why is it changing

This is changing in recognition of the myriad of caring responsibilities employees undertake and the many different ways of carrying them out. It is intended to encourage employers to be flexible in dealing with their employees requests, encouraging them to remain in the workforce whilst still providing additional support to dependants who may not even be family members.

What this means for employers

There is nothing for employers to implement as yet. The law has been given Royal Assent and is awaiting a commencement date which is not anticipated before April 2024.

These new family friendly provisions are part of a growing trend in UK employment law. The direction of travel is towards legislation addressing changing working patterns – hydbrid working and its umbrella cateogory flexible working, work life balance and supporting mental health at work. Workplace culture and employee’s perception of it will remain on the agenda and Employers will continue to face these challenges in the months and years ahead. We are here to guide you through and keep you ahead of the curve. For advice, please get in touch, our details are below.

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes 12 minutes

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes 12 minutes

Contact us

For more information or queries about issues discussed in this article, please contact by email.

To speak directly with or any other of The Legal Partners team of specialist business and HR lawyers based at our Richmond UK office, or our partner lawyers in Singapore, please call +44 203 755 5288

This article explains the main legal issues and common situations to consider. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Please get in contact to discuss your particular issue or queries.

Contact us

For more information or queries about issues discussed in this article, please contact by email.

To speak directly with Ann or any other of The Legal Partners team of specialist business and HR lawyers based at our Richmond UK office, or our partner lawyers in Singapore, please call +44 203 755 5288

This article explains the main legal issues and common situations to consider. It is not a substitute for legal advice. Please get in contact to discuss your particular issue or queries.