Julie Taylor, employment law specialist at Gardner Leader Solicitors in Newbury, considers the Government’s proposed changes to flexible working and parental leave following the recent Consultation on Modern Workplaces.
If your staff have worked for you for 26 weeks continuously and have caring responsibilities (such as children under 17) then they have the right to make an application to work flexibly, which an employer has a duty to consider. Only one request for flexible working can be made in any 12 month period and there are specified grounds on which an employer can refuse the request, such as the company’s ability to continue to meet customer demand.
For parental leave, there are currently various statutory rights in place such as maternity leave and pay, paternity rights, adoption rights and unpaid parental leave.
From 2014, all employees who have at least 26 weeks continuous employment will be able to put in one flexible working request per 12 months, which an employer will have to consider reasonably.
It is still unclear whether existing statutory reasons for refusing flexible working applications, such as the additional cost to the business or ability to fulfil the demands of the job, will remain the same however, the legislation will apply to all businesses irrespective of their size.
For parental rights, a new system of shared parental leave is planned for 2015. For employed women, the current 52 weeks of maternity leave (39 of which is paid) will remain in place, including the 2 weeks of compulsory leave immediately after the birth.
The proposed changes will allow parents to share up to 50 weeks of the leave (37 of which will be paid). Where the mother and partner both meet the eligibility requirements, the mother will be able to end her period of maternity leave and pass the untaken balance of the remaining leave, and any remaining pay, to her partner as flexible parental leave.
With just a year away until this proposed legislation is expected to start filtering into businesses, soon employers need to start thinking about revising their parental and flexible working policies if they’re to be ready for to deal with any staff requests. Areas to consider include communicating corporate policy changes to staff, advising senior management on new procedures and adapting existing guidelines for considering flexible working requests.
It remains to be seen how popular the proposed changes will be among businesses and staff, but it is an interesting step towards creating a more flexible and adaptive way of working that suits today’s modern workplace.