GRANDPARENTS and those adopting will get new rights under a shake-up of parental leave which will also allow new mothers to share leave with the father of their new-born child.
Final details of reforms published today will help stop women feeling they have to choose between a career or a baby, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said.
The Government says the changes will cater for a growing desire by men to play a more hands-on role in a baby’s first months.
Reforms will also extend parents’ existing right to request flexible working to all employees in an attempt to reflect the increased role of grandparents and other carers.
Under the new system the traditional 52 weeks of maternity leave, other than the first fortnight for a new mother’s recovery, can be shared between parents from April 2015.
But, in an effort to allay fears of the impact on smaller firms, bosses will have to agree any proposed pattern of time off and will retain the right to insist it be confined to a continuous block, with no more than two subsequent changes.
Anyone taking total leave of six months or less over the period would be legally entitled to return to the same job.
Rights to the full amount of shared leave will be made available to those bringing up a child born to a surrogate mother and those adopting anyone under 18.
Mr Clegg confirmed, however, that a plan to extend paid paternity leave has been shelved as “unaffordable”, though fathers will get the right to two days off, unpaid, to attend ante-natal appointments.
In other changes, the 18 weeks of unpaid leave per child available to parents of under-fives who have at least a year’s service will be extended to cover those with children right up to the age of 18.
The right to request flexible working patterns will be open to all employees who have done 26 weeks with a firm rather than being restricted to adults’ carers and parents of children under 17, or under 18 if their child is disabled. It means grandparents could apply from April next year for flexible working to help look after grandchildren.
Employers would be placed under a legal duty to consider requests in a “reasonable” manner.
Mr Clegg, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, said: “Women deserve the right to pursue their goals and not feel they have to choose between having a successful career or having a baby.
“They should be supported by their employers, rather than being made to feel less employable or under pressure to take unchallenging jobs.
“We need to challenge the old-fashioned assumption that women will always be the parent that stays at home. Many fathers want that option too.
“There shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach; that’s not how families are set up.”
Tim Thomas, head of employment and skills policy at manufacturers’ organisation EEF, said: “If we get it right, shared parental leave can bring benefits for both employers and families. Employers want this to work and we are pleased to see that government has listened to many of our concerns.”
And TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Shared parental leave is a welcome new step that should encourage more fathers to get involved in childcare from the very beginning.
“But unless it is backed up with better pay, many couples simply won’t be able to afford to take it.”
But the changes were called “a nightmare” which would heap more burdens on already-struggling firms by the Institute of Directors (IOD).
Deputy director of policy Alexander Ehmann added: “Today’s proposals introduce requirements on employers to honour up to three different requests for leave in independent blocks as well as shortening the notice given to employers about a change to a mother’s return date.”