Consultation on family leave and flexible working

Added On: 15th May 2011

Consultation on family leave and flexible working

The Government has launched a consultation on its plans to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees and to introduce a new system of shared parental leave from 2015. The aim is for these measures to make it easier for parents to work whilst bringing up a family.

Flexible working

In the March budget the government scrapped its plans to extend the right to request flexible working because of the current economic environment. This consultation restates the government's longer term commitment to extending this right to all employees. The proposals include:

  • abandoning the existing complicated "request" process in favour of a Code of Practice and a statutory duty to consider requests ‘reasonably’.
  • allowing, but not requiring, employers to prioritise competing requests to take account of the employees’ personal circumstances.
  • allowing more temporary changes to terms and conditions as well as permitting more than one request in any 12-month period.

The government proposes to retain the current 26 week qualifying period and does not intend that the right to request wouldbecome a right to work flexibly. It will still be possible to refuse a request on the basis of business reasons.

Shared Parental Leave

The system proposed in the consultation document which the government aims to bring into effect in April 2015 aims to make the allocation of leave more flexible and equitable (in the Government’s) view. Some of the main features are:

  • 18 weeks’ maternity leave reserved exclusively for mothers and to be taken in a continuous block around the time of birth with current statutory maternity pay/ maternity allowance arrangements
  • 2 weeks’ ordinary paternity leave and pay remains
  • the remainder of leave beyond the 18 week period (34 weeks) will be reclassified as parental leave and will be available to either parent; parents could chose to take leave at the same time
  • parental leave could be taken in chunks or in blocks of days rather than weeks, (subject to further consultation on the detail of the process by which leave is taken). The employer’s agreement will be required for parents to take their leave flexibly rather than in one continuous block
  • With respect to Maternity Pay, once the mother receives pay for the 18 week period reserved to her the remaining 21 weeks of maternity pay will be renamed parental pay
  • there may be a four week paid leave period, effectively a “use it or lose it” leave, which, coupled with the 2 weeks’ ordinary paternity leave gives a guaranteed 6 weeks for fathers. In order not to reduce the total time currently available to mothers, an additional four weeks’ leave will be added on to the current entitlement so mothers can still take up to 12 months off, giving 58 weeks’ leave for parents in total.

Other changes proposed in the consultation include:

  • extending the age limit for parental leave beyond the current limit of the child’s fifth birthday,
  • removing the years’ qualifying period for existing parental leave entitlement and
  • giving fathers the right to unpaid leave to attend antenatal appointments.