Nick Clegg: “A modern workforce is a flexible workforce” – Government to introduce new flexible parental leave and extend right to request flexible working
Nick Clegg yesterday announced major changes intended to increase flexibility in employment and to remove barriers to working for women and carers. These changes create a new “flexible parental leave” for new parents and extend the right to request flexible working to all employees. There is a lot of information in the announcement, but here are the highlights.
Flexible parental leave
Under the new rules, mothers will still be entitled to one year of maternity leave and fathers will still be entitled to 2 weeks’ paternity leave. If the mother returns to work before the end of the 52 week period, up to 50 weeks can be taken as flexible parental leave. The mother and father will be able to swap or share any combination of the balance of the leave as long as the total leave taken between the two parents is no more than 52 weeks. No more than 39 weeks of the leave can be paid and each parent will need to meet the qualifying criteria for leave and pay in their own right.
The leave could be taken by both parents concurrently. Mr Clegg also suggests that parents could take alternating months, although this seems impractical, particularly as an individual pattern of leave will need to be agreed with the employer.
Fathers will be given the right to take unpaid leave to attend 2 ante-natal appointments.
Flexible parental leave will be extended on equal terms to adoptive parents. This addresses a discrepancy that currently exists between biological and adoptive parents. Under the current rules biological mothers are entitled to 90% of their pay for the first six weeks of leave while the primary adopter is entitled only to statutory adoption pay (currently £135.45) during this period of time. Flexible parental leave will also be extended to parents of a child born through surrogacy.
All employees will be entitled to flexible parental leave from the first day of employment, which is a change to the current requirement for adoptive parents to be in post for a minimum of 26 weeks before being entitled to statutory adoption leave and pay.
The Government intends these changes to be in force by 2015 and to be reviewed for effectiveness in 2018.
Unpaid parental leave
The new flexible parental leave should not be confused with the existing unpaid “parental leave”, which currently entitles a parent to a maximum of 13 weeks of unpaid leave for a child up the age of 5. It was announced yesterday that the amount of time available for this form of leave will be increased from 13 to 18 weeks (in 2013, to comply with the revised EU Parental Leave Directive) and will extend the age limit of the relevant child from 5 to 18 (in 2015).
The other major change is that the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees. The current procedure and time limits for the employer to respond to a request will be replaced with a duty to deal with requests in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable amount of time. ACAS will produce guidance on the meaning of ‘reasonable’ in this context. Otherwise, all other rules will remain the same, e.g. 26-week qualifying period and the right to make one request every 12 months. It is envisaged that these changes will be implemented in 2014.
The proposal to extend flexible working to all employees throws up a number of interesting questions which we covered in our seminar on flexible working in June. For example, if an employer receives multiple flexible working requests, which cannot all be granted due to business reasons, how should they be prioritised?
What other issues do you foresee?
We will post updates on the proposals as they make their way through Parliament and will also consider the practical implications of the changes in future publications.