New law for families – employers beware

Flexible working arrangements, shared parental leave and fathers’ rights to attend antenatal appointments all have the potential to change working arrangements

The Children and Families Act 2014 received Royal Assent in March and includes a range of family friendly measures that will undoubtedly impact on businesses.

One of the main changes is the extension of the right to request flexible working arrangements. Previously, the right to work flexibly under the statutory flexible working regime was only available to parents of children under 17 or under 18, if they were disabled or caring for an adult.

The right is now available to all employees with 26 weeks’ service or more and will not now need proof of caring responsibilities. There will be a duty to deal with requests reasonably and within three months of the employer receiving it.

To further establish the government’s intention to create a more flexible working environment for working parents, shared parental leave will be implemented on 5 April 2015. Eligible employees will be entitled to a maximum of 52 weeks’ leave inclusive of 39 weeks’ statutory pay, upon the birth or adoption of a child, which can be shared between parents. The new system of shared parental leave will be available for parents of children expected to be born or placed for adoption from 5 April 2015. Protection from unfair dismissal or detriment in relation to the exercise of the proposed right to shared parental leave is expected to be in force from 1 October 2014. However, unless firms are generous and pay enhanced maternity pay, statutory maternity pay will only be payable for the first 39 weeks.

Finally, the government has also given recognition to the importance of fathers attending antenatal appointments by introducing the right for eligible fathers (employees and agency workers included) to take unpaid time off to attend up to two antenatal appointments up to the maximum of 6.5 hours each per appointment. Similarly, in an adoption situation adopters will be able to take time off to attend appointments to meet the child that they intend to adopt, from 1 October 2014.

Ami Naru is an employment law expert at law firm Irwin Mitchell.

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