On the one hand the Government says it is looking to cut down on “red tape” for employers so as to encourage them to recruit. On the other, they say they are looking to drive “cultural change” by increasing the ability of employees to seek flexibility and/or alternative leave entitlements at work.

It is arguably not easy to ride both horses at one and the same time, but this has not stopped the Government pursuing its employment law agenda with a vengeance. After a hesitant start, they released the “Resolving Workplace Disputes” consultation in January. The consultation closed on 20 April. Not content with proposing substantial reform to our employment tribunals and encouraging alternative ways of resolving disputes at work, they then almost immediately released a second consultation tackling four tricky areas:

  • Flexible parental leave
  • Flexible working
  • Working time regulations
  • Equal pay

The first two are particularly interesting. We now know the way in which parents take leave is set to change quite substantially. For example, it is going to become possible for both parents to take significant periods of time off at one and the same time. It may also become possible to take leave in two or more periods, and on a part time basis. This is going to give new generations of parents a whole suite of options that their forebears can only have dreamed of. But what are employers going to make of this?

Flexible working, arguably one of the big successes of the Labour government, is also set to change significantly. Employers will not merely have a duty to consider a request, but may have a duty to consider requests “reasonably”. This is not the same as giving the employee a “right” to work flexibly, but we may well be moving towards that end.

The idea that employers are going to be let off the hook by this Government, and be allowed to manage their businesses without further “red tape” (as they may see it), is going to face some considerable challenge with these reforms. On the other hand, the ability to extract more potential from our existing workforce as they go through the various stages of life, may just be the extra push our economy is looking for!