Parents to have legal right to request flexible working

In November 2001, the UK government announced legislative proposals to place a duty on employers to consider requests for flexible working arrangements from parents with young children.

On 20 November 2001, trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt announced that the government would be proceeding with legislative proposals designed to enable working parents with young children to seek flexible working arrangements from their employer. In its response to the report of the Work and Parents Taskforce, appointed in June 2001 and chaired by Professor Sir George Bain (UK0107137N), the government 'accepted' or 'accepted in principle' each of the Taskforce's recommendations on the details of legislation to give parents of young children a right to request flexible working and to have that request seriously considered by their employer.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry, the proposals will operate in the following way:

The employee makes a written request to their employer, which is followed up by a meeting. The employer should make a practical business assessment on how the flexible working can be arranged. It is estimated, on the basis of current practice, that 80% of requests will be settled at this meeting.

If a request cannot be accepted, the employer must fully explain the business reasons in writing. The employee can appeal a negative decision using dispute resolution and ultimately go to an employment tribunal. Estimates, based on current practice, suggest that only 1% of requests will end up at a tribunal.

The new right will apply to working parents with children aged under six and to parents with disabled children up to the age of 18. The government estimates that some 3.8 million workers fall into these categories.

Ms Hewitt said: 'Fathers and mothers want more choice about how they balance work and family and the best businesses have already discovered that flexibility works for businesses as well as individuals ... The Sex Discrimination Act has opened up this issue, but only on a case by case basis. I believe these proposals will set in place legal standards that will revolutionise the culture of the workplace.'

The proposals received a generally positive response from employers, trade unions and other interested organisations. Digby Jones, director-general of the main UK employers' organisation, the CBI, commented that the proposals represented 'a workable deal for employers and employees, which will raise awareness of the benefits of flexible working'. John Monks, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, saw the proposals as 'a useful first step'. He said: 'The significance of the Taskforce's report is that employers have for the first time conceded that the law has a role in promoting flexible working. This a is a real advance.' The Equal Opportunities Commission welcomed the fact that 'for the first time employers will have an explicit duty to properly consider fathers' as well as mothers' requests to work part time.'

The new measures will be added to the government's new Employment Bill by amendments introduced at the committee stage of the Bill's consideration by the House of Commons (UK0112104N).

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