A flexible workplace fit for the future.
Family friendly rights have been back in the headlines after the publication of the Children and Families Bill in February. Championed largely by the Liberal Democrats, these proposals attempt to introduce greater flexibility for both employees and employers - but will they work, and will they result in more or less red tape for employers who are already bemoaning excess regulation? A number of changes are proposed. In relation to maternity rights, the current 52 weeks' maternity leave would remain, but the mother could elect to end her maternity leave after two weeks and share the remaining 50 weeks' of leave with her eligible partner, known as "flexible parental leave".
The Government also plans to extend the right to request flexible working patterns to all workers with more than 26 weeks' continuous service, not just those with a dependent child or adult. To cope with the expected upsurge in requests, the current flexible working application process will be streamlined and made less prescriptive for employers.
Other proposals include the right for eligible surrogate parents to take adoption leave and the right for adopting employees to attend adoption appointments during working hours. It will also be made easier for eligible partners to attend antenatal appointments.
Like so much else, whether these reforms will genuinely meet the needs of parents and businesses will depend on the implementation. For businesses, the relaxation of complex processes governing flexible working applications will come as a welcome relief, but will coincide with an increase in the number of applications. Likewise, no-one currently knows how the proposals for shared parental leave will work in practice, given the government's preference that the burden of administering this process will fall on employers. Having said all of this, possibly the biggest brake on the success of these proposals is likely to be economic. The shared parental pay regime is likely to be similar to the current statutory paternal and maternal pay regimes, which currently pay less than the minimum wage. Even the Government's own figures estimate that only two - four per cent of eligible fathers are likely to take up flexible paternity leave.
So while these reforms are likely to be welcomed overall, hard economic reality may mean that, for the time being at least, they are unlikely to herald a revolution in the workplace.
Benedict Gorner is an employment partner at DLA Piper's Birmingham office.