On 16 May 2011, the Government launched its Modern Workplaces Consultation; the latest stage in its comprehensive review of current employment law. The consultation includes plans for a new “family-friendly” system of flexible parental leave which seeks to increase choice and facilitate shared parenting. Mothers will continue to receive 18 weeks’ maternity leave but the remaining leave allowance will be reclassified as “parental leave” equally available to either parent. Four weeks’ paid parental leave will be reserved for each parent during the first year. An additional 30 weeks may then be shared and the proposals allow this leave to be taken concurrently, agreed on a part-time basis and divided into blocks. Further discussion points include allowing unpaid parental leave beyond current age limits and unpaid leave for fathers to attend antenatal appointments.

The consultation also proposes extending the right to request flexible working to all employees (subject to existing qualifying period requirements) and amending the Working Time Regulations so that employees may carry forward untaken annual leave due to maternity, paternity, parental or adoption leave.