New rights to share leave with the father of their new-born child will help stop women feeling they have to choose between having a career or a baby, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said yesterday.
The Government is publishing the final details of a significant shake-up which it hopes will, at the same time, cater for a growing desire by men to play a more hands-on role in a baby’s first months.
Reforms, which have been welcomed by the region’s business community, 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 the parents from April 2015.
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 - while a similar role would be guaranteed for those away longer.
Mr Clegg confirmed that an initial 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 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.”
Chris Glen, West Yorkshire regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), welcomed the proposals, saying: “FSB research has found a third of small firms find the current system to be one of the most difficult and time consuming areas of employment law to comply with.
“The decision to give each parent a maximum of three opportunities to request leave as opposed to an unlimited number will make the system far more manageable for small businesses, while still maintaining flexibility for parents.”
Mark Goldstone, head of business representation and policy at Leeds, York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The requirements for parents to provide indicative plans for how they intend to use their leave will encourage early dialogue between employers and staff without reducing parents’ flexibility.”