The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has announced proposals this week for a new system of flexible leave from 2015.  This will impact both the current system of maternity/paternity/parental leave and also the current flexible working regulations.  I have summarised the key points at the end of this article to read at your leisure.

The aim is to give parents a real choice over work life balance.  The question I would like to pose is this – does the potential benefit to parents outweigh the potential detriment to small employers?

As a parent of 3 school age children, I can clearly see that the proposals will ease the burden on parents trying to balance a career with a family.  The costs of childcare and the difficulties of working while bringing up children mean we lose too many good employees from the labour market for extended periods of time. This clearly isn’t beneficial for UK PLC, so I would hope that the changes allow larger organisations to retain and motivate talented staff.

As we all know however, things are rarely black and white.  As well as a parent I am also the owner of a small but growing business and I speak to hundreds of other small business owners each year.  In businesses like these, each employee has a specific and important role and they may even be critical to the firm’s survival. When all the money goes back into growth and development of the business there is rarely spare cash sloshing around to pay people to be “spare capacity”.  Even short term absences have an impact, as other staff have to provide cover on top of their existing workloads.  Recruitment for a short period of time can be very expensive in agency costs and training time, assuming you can actually find the right person in the first place.

So, where should the balance lie?  There are clear benefits in the proposals for individuals, the public sector and larger organisations who will be better placed to accommodate flexible parental leave and requests to work flexibly.  However, according to statistics produced by the Federation of Small Businesses at the beginning of 2012, SME’s make up 99.9% of the UK’s 4.8 million businesses, employ 47% (14.1 million people) of all staff in the private sector and account for 34% of private sector turnover. Given their importance to the economy, perhaps the Government should look again at measures to protect these valuable employers?

Minal Backhouse

Parental Leave proposals – a summary

  • 52 weeks of maternity leave will remain the default position for all employed women and fathers will remain entitled to 2 weeks paternity leave and pay
  • Up to 50 weeks of untaken maternity leave can be taken as flexible parental leave, to be shared by the woman and her partner. If the mother notifies in advance that she will return early then the balance of the leave may be taken by the parents concurrently
  • Each parent will need to meet the qualifying criteria for leave and/or pay in their own right.
  • Flexible parental leave must be taken in a minimum of one-week blocks. After agreement between parents on how the leave should be taken, they must agree their individual pattern of leave with their employer. If the proposed pattern cannot be agreed, the leave defaults to a single block to commence on a date specified by the employee
  • A new right will be created allowing men to take unpaid leave to attend two ante-natal appointments
  • The age limit on parental leave will increase from 5 years to 18 years in 2015, providing each parent with the right to up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each child under 18.

Flexible Working proposals – a summary

Currently, any parent with a child under 17, or under 18 if the child is disabled, can ask for more flexible working patterns.  The Government plans to extend this right to request flexible working to all employees as follows:

  • Employees with the necessary 26-week qualifying period of continuous employment will have the right to request flexible working
  • The current statutory procedure under which employers consider flexible working requests will be replaced with aduty to deal with requests in a reasonable manner, and within a ‘reasonable’ period of time
  • The number of requests within a 12-month period will continue to be limited to one and employers will be supported with best practice guidance in a new code of practice on how to handle temporary changes to working patterns
  • The right to request flexible working will apply to all businesses regardless of their size.

The Backhouse Solicitors Team

Tel:         01245 893400