The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has announced that, from 2015, the UK will have a new system of flexible parental leave. The Government will also legislate to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees from 2014. The remaining element of the delayed response to the ‘Modern Workplaces’ consultation, on reforming the Working Time Regulations in light of ECJ decisions, is yet to be published.
The Government’s Modern Workplaces response on flexible parental leave states that:
• 52 weeks of maternity leave will remain the default position for all employed women
• fathers will remain entitled to two weeks’ paternity leave and pay
• if the mother returns to work before the end of the 52-week period, 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. However, no more than 12 months can be taken in total with no more than nine months paid
• each parent will need to meet the qualifying criteria for leave and/or pay in their own right. Where possible, these qualifying criteria will mirror the criteria for existing entitlements such as maternity pay and allowance and paternity pay and leave
• 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
• parents who adopt will be eligible for the new flexible parental leave on equal terms with biological parents, ending discrepancies which mean, among other things, adopters are financially worse off
• intended parents of a child born through a surrogacy arrangement who meet the criteria to apply for a Parental Order will be eligible for statutory adoption leave and pay and for flexible parental leave and pay if they meet the qualifying criteria. They will also be eligible for unpaid time off to attend two ante-natal appointments
• unpaid parental leave will increase in March 2013 from 13 to 18 weeks in order to comply with the revised EU Parental Leave Directive (No. 2010/18), and
• 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.
The Government will introduce legislation as soon as Parliamentary time allows, in order to implement the reforms by 2015. A consultation considering the detail of how the new system of flexible parental leave system will work will be launched early in the New Year. Regulations increasing the number of weeks of unpaid parental leave will be introduced in 2013. The proposals for time off for fathers to attend two ante-natal appointments, flexible parental leave, flexible parental pay and increasing the age limit for unpaid parental leave will be implemented from 2015.
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 response on extending the right to request flexible working to all employees states that:
• the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees
• the existing 26-week qualifying period of continuous employment will be retained
• the current statutory procedure under which employers consider flexible working requests will be replaced with a duty to deal with requests in a reasonable manner, and within a ‘reasonable’ period of time
• Acas will produce a statutory code of practice on the meaning of ‘reasonable’, which it will consult on in due course
• Acas will produce guidance on the interaction of discrimination legislation with flexible working rights and how the existing business reasons for refusing a request can help an employer in handling competing requests
• the Government will work with businesses to promote flexible working, with the civil service becoming an ‘exemplar’ in flexible working practice
• the number of requests within a 12-month period will continue to be limited to one, but employers will be supported with best practice guidance in the new code of practice on how to handle temporary changes to working patterns, and
• the right to request flexible working will apply to all businesses regardless of their size.
The Government will bring forward a Children and Families Bill to implement the changes as soon as the Parliamentary timetable permits. The consultation on the code of practice will take place in 2013 with implementation envisaged in 2014.