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Businesses must prepare for flexible working for all

UK firms must get used to a new age of family-friendly working for all employees. Tsrc="’s the message from Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, as he announced proposals that will give all workers the right to demand flexible working.

“At the moment, we have rules which may have made sense in the 1950s, but do not today,” Nick Clegg said on BBC Radio 4. At the heart of his plans are rules allowing parents to choose between them who takes time off during the first year after a baby is born. At present, most of the leave entitlement, both paid and unpaid, is available only to the mother.

Clegg’s plans also give all employees the right to request changes to their working hours, regardless of whether or not they have any children. This could allow grandparents or family friends to adjust their working patterns to provide child care.

Flexible leave gives mothers more choice

The current rules permit mothers to have a full year, or 52 weeks, of time off after a child is born, much of which is paid. Fathers are entitled to have up to six months leave, from when the child is aged about 20 weeks. Both parents can only take their leave in a single block of time.

The new rules that will come into force from 2015 will keep the maximum leave period to one year, with 9 months paid. But most of that time can now be shared between both parents, and the leave periods can be broken up into smaller blocks of time.

Only the first two weeks after the birth are restricted to the mother. After that point, her partner could, in theory, take the other 50 weeks of entitlement. It’s more likely that many will choose to share the time between them.

Flexible working for all could be hard on small firms

While anyone, even those without children, can apply for flexible working under the new rules, firms retain the right to deny permission if they can show it will interfere with business.

Small businesses in particular are concerned about the issues the new rules will raise. Adam Marshall, policy director at the Federation of Small Businesses said the “danger is that you will put business owners off employing men and women who want to have a family”.

Chief policy director of the Confederation of British Industry, Katja Hall, said: “We must ensure that the new system is simple to administer, and does not give rise to legal action from fathers seeking parental rights that mirror those available to mothers.”

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