On 13 November 2012 Nick Clegg announced that from 2015 a new framework of flexible parental leave rights would be implemented. The changes are being implemented following the ‘Modern Workplaces’ consultation, which was necessary after a series of European Court of Justice decisions impacting on the Working Time Regulations 1998.
Two key changes were announced, the first being a radical overhaul of the current regime of parental leave in a bid to encourage shared parenting. Secondly, it was announced that the right to request flexible working would be extended to all employees provided qualifying conditions are met.
Key points of the new flexible parental leave rights:
Maternity leave will remain at 52 weeks. Fathers are still entitled to up to two weeks’ paid paternity leave; it was announced that this would be kept under review with the potential for an increase if it would not have a significant adverse knock on effect on the economy.
The flexible parental leave rights kick in after the first two week recovery period following childbirth. If the mother chooses to return to work with some of her 52 weeks left, both she and the child’s father can then choose to take these. If the mother gives notice of her intention to return early to her employer in advance, then both the mother and father can take the remainder concurrently.
Any flexible parental leave must be taken in one week blocks, the dates of which would need to be negotiated with the employer. Should an agreement not be reached, then all of the leave must be taken in one block starting on a date selected by the employee.
In order to use the balance and be paid, each parent will need to meet set qualifying criteria. These have not yet been published but it was announced that where possible they would match the currently applicable requirements.
Men are to be allowed to take unpaid leave to attend two ante-natal appointments.
The new flexible working provisions will be available to parents of adopted children.
The current unpaid parental age limit of 5 years is set to increase to 18 from 2015. Additionally, as of March 2013 parental leave will increase from 13 to 18 weeks.
The hope is that the new regime will produce a more flexible, adaptive workforce by allowing fathers the opportunity to take a more active role in the upbringing of their children and reducing the time that women spend out of the workplace.
In addition to overhauling parental leave Nick Clegg also announced that the right of employees with children to request flexible working would be extended to all employees provided that they meet the 26 week qualifying period. Such requests are to be dealt with in a ‘reasonable manner’ and within a ‘reasonable time’. ACAS has been tasked with the duty of producing a code dealing with the meaning of ‘reasonable’. The limit on one application for flexible working per 12 month period is to be retained.
The Government is planning on implementing the changes by legislation over the years running up to 2015 so there is still plenty of time for the provisions to be fine tuned.
There is no doubt that these proposals, whilst well meaning, will cause further headaches for employers who will need to grapple with the technicalities and the new rules will apply to all businesses regardless of size and number of employees. We will report further in due course.
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