Flexible leave for new parents where next?

Legal Eye with Richard Whitaker of Hellewell, Pasley and Brewer...

Parents will be able to choose how they share leave in the 12 months after the birth of a child, under proposals for a new system of flexible parental leave designed to allow fathers to play a greater role in raising their child and help mothers return to work at the best time for them.

Flexible parental leave was one of four areas covered by the Modern Workplaces consultation of May 2011 and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has also published proposals on another of these areas – the extension of the rights to flexible working.

Under the flexible parental leave proposals, the mother will take at least the initial two weeks’ leave after birth to recover, but after that it will be up to the two parents to decide how they share the remaining leave. 

A new statutory ‘flexible parent leave’ payment with the same qualifying requirements that currently apply to statutory maternity/paternity pay will be created and parents will be required to provide a selfcertified notice of leave entitlement to their employers and give them eight weeks’ notice of their intention to take flexible leave.

DBIS will consult soon on the full details of how the new system will be administered and, while statutory paternity pay will currently remain at two weeks, the government will look at extending it when the economy strengthens. 

Fathers will, however, gain a new right to take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments.

The right to request flexible working will also be extended to all employees under additional proposals designed to “remove the cultural expectation that flexible working only has benefits for parents and carers”.

The current statutory procedure for considering requests will be replaced and a duty will be imposed on employers to consider all requests in a reasonable manner. Employers will, however, have the flexibility to refuse requests on business grounds.

The government intention is to legislate this year and introduce changes to flexible working in 2014 and to flexible parental leave in 2015.

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