'Family friendly' employment laws

June Salmon, a solicitor with Barker Gotelee, explains recent changes in the rules on flexible workingApril 6, 2009, brought about new changes to employment law dealing with a revision in “family friendly” policies Employers should review their policies on flexible working and raise awareness among employees as new rules came into force.

June Salmon, a solicitor with Barker Gotelee, explains recent changes in the rules on flexible working

APRIL 6, 2009, brought about new changes to employment law dealing with a revision in “family friendly” policies

Employers should review their policies on flexible working and raise awareness among employees as new rules came into force.

Millions of additional parents with children under 17 have the right to request flexible working. The right to request flexible working was previously limited to children under the age of six (or 18 if the child was disabled). This is therefore a significant change to the former rules. Employers will need to ensure that requests are managed fairly, and that decisions are based on objective business grounds. A failure to do so could result in an employee lodging a claim with an employment tribunal.

The right extends to teenage children. Employers must act in a balanced way when considering the needs of their employees for example; those who return from maternity leave and have a young infant to care for compared to an employee who has older children. The employer may exercise the right to refuse the request, but must remember that the decision will need to be objectively justified.

These provisions are in addition to the legislation introduced last year in the Maternity and Parental Leave and Paternity and Adoption leave (Amendment) Regulations 2008 which amended the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, to no longer make a distinction between Ordinary Maternity leave and Additional Maternity Leave, for the purposes of discrimination based on sex discrimination related to pregnancy or maternity.

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The changes apply to employees who gave birth after October 5, 2008. Employees who gave birth or adopted on or after 5 October 2008 have the right to the same terms and conditions during Additional maternity leave and Additional Adoption Leave as employees who are on Ordinary Maternity Leave and Ordinary Adoption Leave. Employers should also note that the prescribed weekly rate of SMP, SPP and SAP has increased to �123.06, as from 6 April 2009.

In addition to the extension of flexible working, the Governments intends to introduce additional paternity leave and extend paid maternity leave to 12 months, some of which will be transferable from the mother to the father. In May 2007, the Government consulted on the introduction of additional paternity leave and pay, enabling fathers to take up to 26 weeks' leave (some of which will be paid), if the mother returns to work before the end of her maternity leave period).

The Government is also planning to increase the statutory maternity pay period from 39 to 52 weeks. The plans for implementation for these provisions will apply to babies born after April 2010, although this not a definite date and may be subject to change.