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Flexible Working – A Positive For Businesses

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Businesses in the UK have faced a raft of new flexible working laws in the last couple of years.

Last June, for example, we saw the introduction of laws allowing all employees to make a formal request to work flexibly, provided they have been with the company for at least 26 weeks. This far-reaching legislation means employees no longer have to demonstrate that they have parental or other caring responsibilities, as they did before, and can instead apply for any reason – even if it is linked to their personal preferences.

Perhaps the most significant change to flexible working, however, has been the introduction of Shared Parental Leave.

These rules allow those whose children are due to be born or adopted after the 5th April to share up to 50 weeks of parental leave between mum and dad following the birth of their child.

It is of course early days in terms of what the impact on businesses will be but how businesses deal with these will most likely be dictated by how many employees make the relevant requests. 

We commissioned some research earlier this year amongst 2,000 working couples on this issue and the results were interesting and in some cases, surprising:

–  Half of UK couples claim that they would be better off financially if they shared their parental leave following the birth of their child.

–  Two thirds of men said that they would like to be the main carer during the baby’s first year and 71% of women said that if they had a baby, they would like to share their leave.

–  Four in 10 said this is down to them wanting to be a bigger part of their child’s life than they would be if they worked full-time whilst 19 per cent were worried they will miss out on too much of their child’s life otherwise.

–  Sixty-one per cent claimed they would be happy to become a stay-at-home dad, even if it had a detrimental effect on their career in the future.

–  Highlighting the financial considerations involved, more than a third of men said shared parental leave would be the most sensible option for them as their wife or girlfriend earns more than them.

This was significantly more than many commentators had predicted. Indeed the Government said that each year, 285,000 working couples are expected to be eligible but just 5,700 couples will take advantage in the first year.

The popularity of the rules amongst working couples will clearly have a huge impact on how positively they will be perceived by businesses.

Interestingly, however, at the end of last year we conducted some business research and found that out of those company bosses who were aware of the rules – a surprising proportion were not – 28% thought that the additional rights for parental leave could create difficulties and extra work. Less than 20% said they would be able to introduce the changes easily.

It’s probably too early to say what businesses think about the rules, however what is clear is that if businesses fail to deal with them correctly, they are at risk of leaving themselves exposed to the risk of mishandling requests and inviting claims for discrimination.