Just when you had got to grips with the new concept of 'additonal paternity leave', on 16 May 2011 the government published its 'Consultation on Modern Workplaces' outlining its plans for a "culture of flexible, family-friendly employment practices". There are four elements - a system of flexible parental leave; a right for all employees to request flexible working; changes to the Working Time Regulations affecting the interaction of annual leave with sick leave and family-friendly leave; and measures to encourage equal pay for equal work between men and women. If you want to see our summary of some of the key proposals then read on …

A new system of flexible parental leave

It is proposed that this new system will be introduced in April 2015. It will compromise of:

Unpaid leave for fathers to attend antenatal appointments - limited to significant appointments (two in uncomplicated pregnancies).

An 18-week maternity leave period - exclusively for mothers and taken in a continuous block around the time of the baby's birth. Fathers will continue to be entitled to paternity leave and pay.

A new 34-week shared parental leave - (calculators at the ready?!) currently, maternity leave is up to 52 weeks, so 52 minus 18 (see above) gives this new 34 week shared period. This would replace the new shared system that has just been introduced. Parents will be able to take this leave at the same time as each other (up to the total maximum of 34, e.g. 17 weeks each).

The remaining 21 weeks of maternity pay (currently maternity pay is for 39 weeks, so, 39-18 = 21), will become shared parental pay, capped in the same way it is now.

Existing provisions for unpaid parental leave - the requirement for a year's service will be removed but the age of the child until which unpaid leave can be taken will be extended to either their, 8th, 12th, 16th or 18th birthday. The amount of leave will increase to 18 weeks.

As is hopefully clear, the intention is to encourage shared parental leave but, as always, the devil will be in the detail, or, unfortunately, lack of it!

Extending the right to request flexible working to all employees

That's right; it is proposed that all employees will have the right to request flexible working.

The requirement for 26 weeks service to qualify for this right will remain however the statutory procedure will change and employers will be under a duty to consider requests 'reasonably'. Further, at the moment only one request can be made every 12 months. This will change to allow a second request in any 12 month period if the original request stated that they were seeking change for less than a year, i.e. a temporary change to deal with complex situations. Finally, there will be no rules on prioritising requests from, say, parents and carers over other employee requests.

The proposed Code of Practice will address these suggestions in more detail.

Rescheduling or carrying over annual leave

The ash cloud of confusion as to how holiday and sickness co-exist could finally reach the departure gates.

Where someone has been unable to take their annual leave due to sickness absence and it is not possible to reschedule their leave in the holiday year, they will be able to carry it over to the next holiday year. Further, holiday which has not been taken due to absence on maternity, adoption, parental and paternity leave will also be able to be carried over to the next holiday year.

There are also some additional provisions in respect of splitting the entitlement to 5.6 weeks' holiday into 4 weeks plus 1.6 weeks and allowing that 1.6 weeks to be treated differently but we will spare you the details on this for now!

Compulsory pay audits

The proposal is that tribunals will be required to order an employer to conduct and publish a pay audit if it has found to have breached the Equality Act 2010 either by discriminating because of sex in relation to non-contractual pay or by breaching the equality clause in relation to contractual pay (an equal pay claims). However, there will be exceptions to this requirement.

Concluding comments

Assuming you have made it this far and you want more, the consultation document can be found through the following link: http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/employment-matters/docs/c/11-699-consultation-modern-workplaces. Further, if you feel that you have something to say, add, query, etc. then you can complete and submit a 'consultation response form' or submit an online response through "Survey Monkey" (no joke, that is what the company is called - www.surveymonkey.com). We will of course keep you updated on this latest development in the ever exciting world of employment law as and when new information emerges. Watch this space!