The government has launched its Modern Workplaces consultation on plans to introduce a new system of flexible parental leave from 2015.
Under the proposals, once the early weeks of maternity and paternity leave have ended, parents will be able to share the overall leave allowance between them.
Unlike the current system, this leave could be taken in a number of different blocks and both parents could take leave at the same time.
Employers would have the ability to ensure that the leave must be taken in one continuous period if agreement can not be reached.
They will be able to ask staff to return for short periods to meet peaks in demand or to require that leave is taken in one continuous block, depending on business needs.
The consultation seeks to build a new consensus around greater flexibility, which also includes plans to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.
Proposals around flexible parental leave include: 18 weeks maternity leave and pay in one continuous block around birth; four weeks of parental leave and pay exclusive to each parent to be taken in the first year; and 30 weeks of additional parental leave available to either parent, of which 17 weeks would be paid and can be broken in blocks between parents.
Proposals around flexible working include: extending the right to request for all workers who have been with their employer for 26 weeks; the government will consider publishing a statutory Code of Practice for businesses and will propose that employers should be allowed to take into account employees individual circumstances when considering conflicting requests; there are no plans to alter the current eight business reasons for a business to turn down a request; and non-legislative measures are being developed to promote flexible working opportunities both for those with a job and for those looking for one.
Proposals around equal pay include that employment tribunals that have found an employer to have discriminated on gender in relation to pay, will order the employer to conduct a pay audit and publish their results, except in some circumstances, such as where an audit has already been conducted.
Vince Cable, business secretary, said: “Our proposals will encourage greater choice by giving employees and their employers the flexibility to find arrangements to suit them both.
“New parents should be able to choose their childcare arrangements for themselves, rather than being dictated to by rigid government regulation as is currently the case. And employers should be encouraged to come to agreement with employees on how work and family responsibilities can be met simultaneously.
“These measures are fairer for fathers and maintain the existing entitlements for mothers but crucially give parents much greater choice over how to balance their work and family commitments.
“Of course I’m mindful of the need to minimise the costs, bureaucracy and complexities on businesses. This has been at the forefront of my mind throughout the development of our proposals. So we will ensure that businesses will still be able to take into account their needs when agreeing how leave can be taken.
“But I’m also confident that we have a good case to make on the wider benefits to business, not least from a motivated and flexible workforce and we will be making this case to employers over the next few years before these changes are introduced.”
Theresa May, home secretary and minister for women and equalities, said: “Britain’s workplace laws are in need of modernisation. We have made great strides in addressing explicit discrimination in the workplace, but disadvantage persists.
“The solution to these challenges, though, is not more bureaucracy, top-down intervention and politically correct quotas, but policies that go with the grain of human nature and maximise flexibility and choice.
“That is why we will extend the right to request flexible working to all and introduce a new system of flexible parental leave both of which will contribute to our commitment to closing down the gender pay gap.
“But where there is evidence of discrimination we will punish it, so we will introduce mandatory pay audits for companies that are found guilty of pay discrimination.”
Maria Miller, work and pensions minister, said: “For far too long flexible working has been dismissed as a burden on business, when in fact the most successful businesses understand the important role it can play in recruiting and retaining the right staff.
“We need to move flexible working away from being the exception, to being considered a normal way to work.”
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