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Shared parental leave and flexible working reforms confirmed

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has confirmed in a speech today, that following responses to the Modern Workplace consultation, the Government intends to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees and introduce a system of flexible parental leave to encourage shared parenting.

The changes to parental leave and flexible working are being introduced on the basis of the support for the proposals received in the Morden Workplace consultation which indicated that the current arrangements are out out-of-step with the needs of a modern society which needs greater flexibility to manage work-life balance. The Government believes that the reforms will allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their child, help mothers to return to work at a time that’s right for them and create more flexible workplaces to boost the economy.

The Minister for Employment Relations, Jo Swinson, provided an outline of the reforms and new rights. Shared parental leave All mothers will continue to have a guaranteed 52 weeks of maternity leave if they want it. They will have to take at least two weeks (or four weeks in prescribed circumstances) before they can return to work to make sure they have appropriate time to recover from the birth. Should they choose to take advantage of flexible leave, mothers and fathers can opt into the flexible parental leave system at any point from the initial two week (or four week) recovery period after birth.

For example: the mother could take the first eight months, with the father taking the remaining four months; or the mother could return to work for a period in the middle of the year with the father taking care of the child at that time; or the parents could choose to both stay at home together with the child, for up to 6 months.

Parents will be required to provide a self-certified notice of their leave entitlement to their employers, with the Government intending to consult fully next year on the detail of how the new system will be administered. Parents will be expected to give their employers eight weeks’ notice of intention to take flexible parental leave.

The Government is creating a new statutory payment for parents on flexible parental leave, with the same qualifying requirements that currently apply to statutory maternity and paternity pay. The new system will not be restricting the flexibility of flexible parental leave but will leave it to each parent and their employer to agree between themselves the pattern of leave.

Fathers are also to gain a new right to take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments. Statutory paternity leave will remain at two weeks, but the Government is to keep this under review and look at extending this period once the economy is in a stronger position.

The right to request flexible working
The right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees, to give greater choice and freedom to workers and businesses. The Government believes this will remove the cultural expectation that flexible working only has benefits for parents and carers, allowing individuals to manage their work alongside other commitments and improving the UK labour market by providing more diverse working patterns. For example, grandparents could apply for flexible working to help care for their grandchildren.

The Government will also remove the current statutory procedure for considering requests. Instead employers will have a duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner. Businesses will have the flexibility to refuse requests on business grounds.

Next steps
The Government plan to legislate on the reforms next year and will introduce the changes to flexible working in 2014 and to flexible parental leave in 2015.

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