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All change for working families? The Government announces a major overhaul of the laws on flexible working and parental leave

Published 19 November 2012

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, announced on 13th November 2012 that from 2015 a flexible system of parental leave will be introduced and that from 2014 the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees. These changes are aimed at encouraging more women back to work and giving men better options for caring for their children, reflecting the needs of a modern workforce.

Parents will be given the right to share the care of their child in the first year after birth. Female employees will retain the option of 52 weeks maternity leave, but if parents prefer to do so then following the first two weeks' maternity leave, they can choose to divide up the balance of the maternity leave between them instead. Partners of pregnant women will also be given a legal right to take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments.

In terms of flexible working, at the moment parents with children under the age of 17 (and parents with disabled children under 18) can request flexible working patterns, as long as they have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks. The Government has now confirmed that it will be extending this right to all employees (subject to meeting the other qualification requirements), so that the right is no longer linked to caring for children.

Nick Clegg stated that the combined measures will give parents "more options" and professional women a "real choice" about how they balance their careers and family responsibilities, while still respecting couples who want more "traditional arrangements".

The Federation of Small Businesses has said that extending the right to request flexible working will place added burdens on business, but unions have said that the changes will make "life easier" for millions of employees.

Nigel Crebbin, employment partner at law firm Berg, commented: “In my experience, one of the issues for employers dealing with the statutory right to request flexible working has been the fact that only certain employees are entitled to make an application. This can cause unrest in the workplace and hostility from those who are not entitled to request to work flexibly, but who feel that they are required to cover for their flexibly working colleagues. While universal eligibility may not be welcomed by all employers, flexible working can have positive outcomes in terms of staff motivation, retention and morale and is certainly something that employers should be willing to give proper consideration to.”

“Also if the proposed changes to maternity and parental leave enable parents to strike a better work life balance and allow businesses to retain valuable members of staff, then that has to be a good thing. However, the changes do seem potentially very complicated and we will have to see the detail of the legislation before we can judge how workable it is likely to be in practice.”

(The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Berg or any of its partners or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.)

Nigel Crebbin
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Berg Solicitors
0161 817 2817

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