Radical reforms will allow both parents to share up to a year’s leave to look after their new-born children, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has announced. The changes will allow dads to play a bigger role in bringing up their child, help mums to go back to work when it’s right for them, and make more flexible workplaces to boost the economy.

Under the new system of flexible parental leave, parents will be able to choose how they share care of their child in the first year after birth.

Working mums will still be entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave. However, working parents will be able to opt to share the leave.

Mums will have to take at least the first two weeks off after the birth to recover, but after that they can choose to end the maternity leave and the parents can share the rest of the leave as flexible parental leave. It will be up to both parents to decide how they share the remaining weeks of the leave.

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said:

“Our current system of maternity leave is out-of-step with the wishes of modern parents who want much greater flexibility in how they look after their children.

“Reform is long overdue and the changes we are making will shatter the perception that women have to be the primary care-givers. In the future, both mothers and fathers will be able to take control of how they balance those precious first months with their child and their careers.

“This is good news not only for parents and parents-to-be, but employers too who will benefit from a much more flexible and motivated workforce.”

Parents will have much greater flexibility about how they ‘mix and match’ their leave. They could take the leave in turns or take it together, as long as they take no more than 52 weeks combined in total.

For example, the mum could take the first eight months, with the dad taking the remaining four months; or the mum could return to work for a period in the middle of the year with the dad taking care of the child at that time; or the parents could choose to both stay at home together with the child, for up to 6 months.

The new entitlement will allow both parents to keep a strong link with their workplace, helping employers to attract and keep women in their organisations and stopping women dropping out of the workforce following childbirth. The aim is that women will face less of a ‘career penalty’ for taking an extensive period of time off.

Employers will benefit from being able to make the most of the entire talent pool that the increased flexibility allows.
Parents will have to provide a self-certified notice of their leave entitlement to their bosses. The Government will consult fully next year on the detail of how the new system will be administered. Parents will be expected to give their employers eight weeks notice of their plans to take flexible parental leave.

The Government is creating a new statutory payment for parents on flexible parental leave, with the same qualifying requirements that currently apply to statutory maternity and paternity pay. The new system will not be restricting the flexibility of flexible parental leave but will leave it to each parent and their employer to agree between themselves the pattern of leave.

Dads will also gain a new right to take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments. Statutory paternity leave will remain at two weeks, but the Government is to keep this under review and look at extending this period once the economy is in a stronger position.

New proposals have also been announced today to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees, to give greater choice and freedom to workers and businesses. This will remove the cultural expectation that flexible working only has benefits for parents and carers, allowing individuals to manage their work alongside other commitments and improving the UK labour market by providing more diverse working patterns. For example, grandparents could apply for flexible working to help care for their grandchildren.

The Government will also remove the current statutory procedure for considering requests. Instead employers will have a duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner. Businesses will have the flexibility to refuse requests on business grounds but the new laws are expected to bring benefits to employers as well.

Evidence from the Employers Worklife Balance survey in 2007 shows flexible working creates a productive and motivated workforce, saves employers money from reduced absenteeism and lower turnover costs, and allows them to retain highly skilled staff.

The Government plan to legislate on this next year and will introduce the changes to flexible working in 2014 and to flexible parental leave in 2015.

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