Flexible parental leave
The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has today announced plans to introduce a new flexible system of parental leave, as part of what is described as a “radical” shake-up.
Under the reforms, a mother will still be required to take a compulsory 2 week period of leave after the birth of a child, but at any time following that, the parents will be able to ‘opt in’ to the new flexible parental leave system, and to share what remains of the maternity leave period.
It will be up to both parents to decide how they share the remaining period of leave – they may choose to split the leave between them, take it in turns, or take some time off together.
A new statutory payment for parents on flexible parental leave will be introduced, with the same qualifying requirements that currently apply to maternity and paternity pay.
The Government intends to consult next year on the detail of how the new system will be administered, but has indicated that parents will likely be required to provide a self-certified notice of their leave entitlement to their employers, and to give 8 weeks’ notice of their intention to take flexible parental leave.
As part of the reforms, fathers will gain the right to take unpaid leave to attend 2 antenatal appointments, though statutory paternity leave will remain at 2 weeks for now (the Government has suggested that this may be extended once the economy is “in a stronger position”).
The TUC’s general secretary, Brendan Barber, has welcomed the announcement, saying that the reforms should “nudge” employers into modernising working practices to make “life easier for millions of working parents”. He believes that businesses will benefit from a more engaged workforce and a larger pool of people from which to recruit.
The response from employers, however, has been to express some concern. The British Chamber of Commerce have stated that the plans create uncertainty and lack of stability for employers, and could cause friction between parents and employers. The Federation of Small Businesses has said the changes will add to burdens on firms.
Flexible parental leave will be introduced in 2015.
Changes to flexible working
Also announced today were proposals to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees. The aim is to give greater choice and freedom to both workers and businesses, by removing cultural expectations that flexible working benefits only parents and carers. This would open up the possibility of grandparents applying for flexible working to help with the care of their grandchildren.
As part of the reform of flexible working, the Government has indicated that it intends to remove the current statutory procedure for considering flexible working requests. Instead, employers will be under a duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner. This aspect will be greeted with more enthusiasm by employers.
The changes to flexible working will be introduced in 2014.
Nick Clegg has said that the changes will “shatter the perception that woman have to be the primary care-givers”. However, we suspect there will be less of a “shattering” of perceptions, and more of a very slow and gradual shift as a result of these reforms.
The eagerness of the Government to promote these measures is in marked contrast with the generally deregulatory trend in its policy towards employment law.