In May 2011 the Government published a report ‘Consultation on Modern Workplaces' that set out a four stage plan for a culture of flexible, family friendly employment practices. The proposals cover flexible parental leave, including unpaid leave for fathers to attend antenatal appointments, and an 18 week period of maternity leave for mothers, followed by a new 34 week period of shared parental leave.
Under the proposals the right to request flexible working would be extended to all employees (not only parents) with 26 weeks of continuous employment. With regard to annual leave, workers who are unable to take annual leave during one holiday year would be able to carry unused leave over to the next holiday year. Workers would also be able to take leave which was untaken due to absence on maternity, adoption, parental or paternity leave.
The Government's proposals would only allow workers to request the opportunity to work flexibly, not the right to work flexibly, so any legislation is likely to work in the same way as the current rights operate for those with responsibility for children. You retain the right to reject a request to work flexibly in certain circumstances.
Whilst employers may be encouraged to look upon these requests positively to maintain greater staff motivation, retention and morale, the employer may still consider how flexibility might work for them, especially in terms of covering what might otherwise be considered unsociable hours.
Mark Nolan is an employment solicitor at Russell Jones & Walker, www.rjw.co.uk