The consultation on flexible parental leave and flexible working delivers on promises in the Coalition's programme for government to improve choices for working parents. It follows an equally ambitious announcement on "reforming" the law on TUPE, collective redundancy consultation and discrimination compensation. While reform of these three areas is likely to be heavily constrained by existing EU legislation, the Government has considerably more room for manoeuvre in relation to parental leave.
Building on the new system of partially-transferable maternity leave introduced this April, the idea is to make all but the first eighteen weeks of leave fully flexible so that it can be shared in the way that parents, in consultation with their employers, think best. That opens the possibility of either parent taking some leave concurrently, intermittently, or spreading it more thinly over the working week to facilitate returning to work part-time.
The consultation also tackles extending the right to request flexible working to most employees and, as a surprise bonus, covers two other topics. It looks at amending the provisions on annual leave in the Working Time Regulations to align them more closely with recent EU case law and giving employment tribunals power to order equal pay audits in certain circumstances. Changes to the WTR may be implemented in 2012, but although legislation on the other measures is promised as soon as possible, the flexible working and parental leave changes are unlikely to be implemented until 2015 at the earliest.