New flexible working laws will mean significant change for employers

15 January 2007

Employers should expect a significant rise in requests for flexible working as a result of new legislation which will come into force in April 2007, warns international law firm Bird & Bird. The new laws will extend the right to request flexible working to carers. The right at present only applies to parents of young children. Lawyers at Bird & Bird warn that employers should expect a significant rise in requests and will need to prepare accordingly.

The new Flexible Working Regulations 2006, which have been introduced as part of the government’s plans to extend family rights under the Work and Families Act 2006, will mean that employers will, from April 2007, be obliged to consider requests for flexible working from those who care for certain adults. This right has been available to employees with children under six (or with disabled children under 18) since 2003, and has been taken up extensively. Recent surveys show that 47% of new mothers work flexibly and 74% of businesses say that this has had no effect on the workplace.

Carers who will benefit from the new changes are employees who care for their spouse or partner or for someone who is a near relative of the employee, or someone who lives at the same address as the employee. Near relatives can include in-laws, uncles and aunts, and step-relatives.

It is estimated by the DTI that 6.5% of the working population will fall within this definition of carer and that 1.4 million carers will be eligible to request flexible working from April 2007 as a result of the new right.

Bird & Bird employment lawyer Elizabeth Lang says:

"The current flexible working arrangements available to parents of young children are generally considered to work successfully. The extension of these rights to carers, and the broad way in which the definition of carers has been drafted, will mean that employers can expect a significant increase in the number of requests from employees to work flexibly. Some clients are already aware of prospective requests by employees who will qualify for the right after April".

Requests for flexible working can be made by employees with 6 months' service and must be made and dealt with according to a set format. A request can only be denied on certain specific business-related grounds. Flexible working can include decreased hours, different hours or a different pattern of working.

The other measures under the Work and Families Act 2006 which are in force are the extension of maternity rights for women expecting babies after 1 April 2007. This will entitle all women to take up to one year of maternity leave (at present 6 months of service is necessary to benefit from this right), and will extend the period of statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance and statutory adoption pay from 26 to 39 weeks.

Additional measures have been announced include the further extension of the period of statutory maternity pay, maternity allowance and statutory adoption pay to 52 weeks, and the new right for mothers to 'pass on' to fathers up to 6 months of their maternity leave, in the form of additional paternity leave. No date has been confirmed for the introduction of these rights although it has been indicated that it will be within the current parliament.

For more information on this please contact Elizabeth Lang on 020 7415 6027 or Natalie Arestis, PR Manager on 020 7905 6248 or natalia.arestis@twobirds.com.

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Notes to Editors

About Bird & Bird

Bird & Bird is a full service international commercial law firm with an in-depth knowledge of chosen industry sectors. We focus on aviation & aerospace, communications, banking & financial services, e-commerce, information technology, life sciences, media and sport.

With offices in Beijing, Brussels, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, The Hague, Hong Kong, London, Lyon, Madrid, Milan, Munich, Paris, Rome and Stockholm, we offer our clients local expertise within a global context helping them to realise their business goals both domestically and internationally.

Bird & Bird was identified as one of the Top 50 Law Firms in the world that has “taken the greatest strides towards globalisation while maintaining quality”, in a recent survey carried out by researchers for the PLCWhich Lawyer? Yearbook.

For more information on Bird & Bird please go to www.twobirds.com