Government Consults on Further Changes to Employment Law

Posted: 10th June 2011

As part of its comprehensive review of employment law, the Government has launched a consultation on plans to introduce a new system of flexible parental leave from 2015.

Under the proposals, mothers would be entitled to 18 weeks’ maternity leave and pay, taken in one continuous block, around the time of their child’s birth. Once the early weeks of maternity and paternity leave have ended, parents would be able to share 30 weeks of additional parental leave, of which 17 weeks would be paid. Unlike the current system, this leave could be divided into blocks between the parents, with both parents able to take leave at the same time should they wish. Employers would have the ability to ensure that the leave is taken in one continuous period if agreement cannot be reached. They would also be able to ask staff to return for short periods to meet peaks in demand or to require that leave be taken in one continuous block, depending on business needs. In addition, there would be four weeks of parental leave and pay available to each parent, to be taken in the child’s first year, and the father’s current right to take 2 weeks’ paid paternity leave around the time of the baby’s birth would be retained.
Business Secretary Vince Cable said, “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.”
Flexible Working
The consultation also proposes extending the right to request flexible working to all workers who have been with their employer for 26 weeks. To achieve this, the system for considering flexible working requests would be made more adaptable, with the statutory process replaced with a new duty on employers simply to consider requests ‘reasonably’. A statutory Code of Practice would be published, setting out best practice on the benefits and adoption of flexible working, including guidance on what is a ‘reasonable’ process for handling requests. It is proposed that employers should be allowed to take into account employees’ individual circumstances when considering conflicting requests. There are no plans to alter the current 8 business reasons for a business to turn down a request.
Equal Pay
It is proposed that where an Employment Tribunal finds that an employer has discriminated on the ground of gender in relation to pay, it will have the power to order the employer to conduct a pay audit and publish the results.
The Working Time Regulations
Amendments to the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) are also planned, including a tidying up exercise, to bring the WTR into line with recent judgments in the European Courts, so that annual leave entitlements can be rescheduled, and carried over to the next leave year, when a worker falls ill during planned annual leave. The proposal is to limit this to the four weeks’ minimum annual leave entitlement under the EC Working Time Directive.
The consultation document can be found here. The consultation closes on 8 August 2011.