Back in November 2012, we highlighted the Government's proposals to change family friendly legislation, ranging from extending the right to request flexible working to introducing shared parental leave.
This week, two consultations have been published which relate to these proposals: (i) an ACAS consultation on a draft Code of Practice on the extended right to request flexible working and (ii) a Government consultation on administering shared parental leave and pay.
The right to request flexible working currently applies to employees with a child under 17 years old (or under 18 if the child is disabled) and employees who care for an adult (i.e. a person aged 18 or over). The Government has proposed to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees from 2014. Whilst the 26 week qualifying period of continuous employment will be retained, the current statutory procedure, through which employers consider flexible working requests, will be replaced with a duty on employers to deal with requests in a ‘reasonable’ manner and within a ‘reasonable’ time.
ACAS has now launched a consultation on a draft statutory Code of Practice, intended to help businesses manage this extended right. The draft Code is designed to offer short, practical advice to make it as easy as possible for employers to handle requests and fit them to their specific circumstances and procedures. Although the current statutory procedure will be replaced, the draft Code follows similar principles, outlining how an employer should consider a request and the grounds for refusing a request.
ACAS will also produce a non-statutory good practice guide, with practical examples of managing flexible working requests in the workplace. The consultation on the draft Code closes on 20 May 2013.
Shared parental leave
The Government has also published a consultation on administering shared parental leave and pay. The consultation closes on 17 May 2013.
Shared parental leave and pay, due to be introduced in 2015, is intended to provide parents with more choice and flexibility in how they share the care of their child in the early stages following birth. The default position for employed women will remain 52 weeks’ maternity leave. Women who are currently eligible to receive statutory maternity pay will continue to be able to do so for 39 weeks. Mothers with a partner where they both meet the qualifying conditions for the shared parental leave system will be able to return to work and share the untaken balance of maternity leave and pay as shared parental leave and pay.
The Government is keen to ensure that administering shared parental leave is simple and straightforward for parents and employers alike. The key proposals cover:
• Name change - although previously referred to as "flexible parental leave", the new system will now be called "shared parental leave". This is to distinguish it from the individual entitlement to unpaid parental leave.
• Eligibility criteria - both parents will be required to follow a two-stage process to qualify for shared parental leave and pay. An economic activity test will be introduced and parents will then need to consider their own employment record to assess whether they qualify for shared parental leave and pay.
• Time limit - the Government is consulting on the cut-off point after which parents will no longer be able to use any outstanding shared parental leave or pay entitlement.
• Keep in touch (KIT) days - KIT days will be introduced for parents on shared parental leave.
• Right to return - the shared parental leave system is intended to provide suitable protection for parents whilst maintaining flexibility for employers. The Government is consulting on the most suitable approaches to employee protections when returning from shared parental leave.
Whilst the ACAS draft Code of Practice is reasonably straightforward, it remains to be seen whether the administration of the shared parental leave and pay system will be the same. Given the Government's ongoing review of employment law, employers are having to contend with a whole host of developments, including changes to the Employment Tribunal system, collective redundancy and TUPE. We will continue to keep track of the Government's family friendly proposals and highlight further developments on the Employment Law Blog.