The Government believe the UK economy should be supported by a framework of laws that ensures we have a strong and efficient labour market which is flexible, effective and fair. Today the Government are announcing their response to the flexible parental leave and flexible working elements of the modern workplaces consultation. The response details a package of measures that will further enhance the flexibility of the labour market and will allow businesses more freedom in how they manage their staff. These measures will encourage fathers to take a greater role in caring for their babies and enable working families to be able to share caring responsibilities in the earliest stages of a child’s life. In addition, we are extending the right to request flexible working to all employees.
A new system of flexible parental leave
The new system will allow working parents to take leave in shorter blocks; to intersperse periods of work with periods of leave and to take leave at the same time if they choose to. They will also be able to share leave between them in a way that suits them best. In order to allow concurrency of leave (where the woman is on maternity leave and her partner can be on flexible parental leave at the same time), we propose to enable a woman to specify in advance the date she intends to end her maternity leave and for the remaining leave and pay to become immediately available as flexible leave and pay for her partner to take. This will enable a family to be at home together for a time if they so wish.
Women with partners where they both meet the qualifying conditions for the flexible parental system will be able to return to work early, or commit to ending their maternity leave on a specific date, and share the untaken balance of maternity leave and pay as flexible parental leave and pay. The length of flexible parental leave will not exceed the balance of untaken maternity leave, and the amount of statutory flexible parental pay will not exceed the balance of untaken statutory maternity pay or maternity allowance available at the point at which the woman returns, or commits to return, to work.
The 52 weeks of maternity leave currently available will remain in place as the default position for all employed women. Women who are currently eligible to receive statutory maternity pay (SMP) or maternity allowance will continue to be able to do so for 39 weeks.
We will be providing the right for fathers, or partners of pregnant women, to take unpaid time off work to attend two antenatal appointments with their pregnant partner.
We will increase the child’s age limit on unpaid parental leave deriving from EU legislation from the current five years to 18 years, giving each parent the right to take up to 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave for each child under 18.
We are making changes to the leave and pay available to adoptive parents to bring it more closely into line with the leave and pay rights available to birth parents. Working couples who adopt will also be able to opt into the flexible parental system in the same way as birth parents if they meet the qualifying conditions. Intended parents of a child born through a surrogacy arrangement who meet the criteria to apply for a parental order will be eligible for statutory adoption leave and pay if they meet the qualifying criteria; and for flexible parental leave and pay if they meet the qualifying criteria.
Right to request flexible working
The measures set out in our response will enable many more employees to balance their work and personal commitments. We believe that flexible working will benefit employers as well; employers report that employees who work flexibly are more productive, less likely to take sick leave and more likely to stay with their employers. Additionally we have set out the intention to remove the existing statutory procedure for considering flexible working requests, which can be bureaucratic and costly, replacing it with a duty on employers to consider requests in a “reasonable manner”. We will set out in a code of practice guidance for employers on how to consider requests and what we mean by “reasonable”.
The Government intend to introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows, in order to implement the reforms by 2015.
Copies of the Modern Workplaces: Flexible Working Government response and the Modern Workplaces: Flexible Parental Leave Government response document have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.