Employment Update: New family friendly proposals
In a bid to become "the most family friendly Government in the world", the Government has published its long-awaited plans to introduce flexible parental leave from 2015 and extend the right to flexible working to all employees from 2014. Here is a summary of the key proposals:
Flexible parental leave
52 weeks' maternity leave (with 39 weeks paid) will remain the default position for employed women. After the two week compulsory maternity leave period reserved for the mother, parents who meet certain earnings/length of service qualifying criteria can share the untaken balance of maternity leave and pay as flexible parental leave and pay. Parents can take it in turns to take leave or both parents can be on leave together.
Flexible parental leave must be taken in a minimum of one week blocks. The amount available to each party will be decided by the parents and each will subsequently need to agree their individual pattern of leave with their employer. If a pattern cannot be agreed, the leave defaults to a single block to commence on a date specified by the employee.
A consultation on how the new system will work will be launched early in 2013, with a view to introducing flexible parental leave and pay in 2015.
Fathers, and partners of pregnant women, will be entitled to take unpaid time off work to attend two antenatal appointments. This is due to be introduced in 2015.
Unpaid parental leave
From March 2013, unpaid parental leave will increase from 13 weeks to 18 weeks. In 2015, the age limit on parental leave will increase from the current 5 years to 18 years, providing each parent with the right to up to 18 weeks' unpaid parental leave for each child under 18.
Adoption leave and pay
Statutory adoption leave will become a "day one" right with no qualifying conditions for eligible adopters who are matched with a child. Statutory adoption pay will be enhanced to 90% of the primary adopter's salary for the first 6 weeks. An adopter who qualifies for statutory adoption leave may end that leave and if both adopters, or the adopter and his/her partner, meet the qualifying criteria, they will become eligible for the flexible parental leave and pay system from 2015.
The intended parents in a surrogacy arrangement who meet the criteria to apply for a Parental Order and intend to apply for one or have applied for one will be eligible (if they meet the qualifying criteria) for statutory adoption leave and pay; and for flexible parental leave and pay. Both intended parents will be entitled to unpaid time off to attend two antenatal appointments.
The right to request flexible working currently applies to eligible employees with a child under 17 years old (or under 18 if the child is disabled) and employees who care for an adult (i.e. a person aged 18 or over).
From 2014, the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees. The 26 week qualifying period of continuous employment will be retained.
The Government plans to replace the current statutory procedure, through which employers consider flexible working requests, with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a 'reasonable' manner and within a 'reasonable' time. ACAS will produce a statutory code of practice, providing guidance as to the meaning of 'reasonable' for employers. ACAS will consult on this code of practice in 2013. Guidance will also be provided to employers on how to prioritise conflicting requests.