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Flexible work – good for families, good for business

Measure to support families - including Dads

Over the past few years, the government has taken a leading role in supporting parents and carers at work. The ‘right to request’ flexible working, and new paternity, maternity and parental leave options have been introduced to support parents at work including fathers. It’s good for families, good for equality – and good for business too.

Working fathers and mothers with children aged up to 16 have the right to request flexible working. This right is also available to parents of disabled children under 18, and to carers of dependent adults. More than 10 million employees are eligible.

This ‘right to request’ enables parents and carers to propose flexible working arrangements. Employers must seriously consider the request and can only refuse if they have valid business reasons. According to the 2008 CBI Employment Trends Survey, 95% of all requests from working parents are agreed.

There’s a growing awareness that enabling staff to have a better work-life balance is good for business, as it encourages loyalty and increases job satisfaction. With the average cost of recruiting a new member of staff around £6k, it makes sense to accommodate employees’ aspirations for a manageable balance.

The most forward-looking employers go beyond the minimum. Rather than have a reactive policy of responding to requests, they have developed comprehensive flexible working policies for all staff, not only parents. Taking a more strategic approach enables them to maximise the benefits, such as reducing property and travel costs.

Flexible work for fathers

Flexible working is sometimes portrayed as a women’s issue, and indeed it is contributing to women achieving greater equality in sectors such as financial services and law where they are under-represented at senior levels. But men are also seeking a better balance and looking to play a more significant role in caring for their children.

According to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, almost half of fathers have some kind of flexible working open to them – though only 30% are actually using it. The most common forms are flexitime and working from home but options could also include different start and finish times, part-time working and compressed hours. The overwhelming majority (96 %) of fathers who were working flexibly valued their working arrangements. Two thirds of all fathers consider the availability of flexible working to be important when looking for a new job.

Paternity Leave

The vast majority (91%) of dads now take time off around the birth of their child and the majority of fathers say that taking time off leads to them taking a greater role in caring for their children. Currently fathers can take 2 weeks paid paternity leave at a standard rate of £123.06 per week. Many also benefit from contractual paternity leave or may also take annual leave.

Now extensions to paternity leave are on the horizon. The Government plans to introduce a new right to Additional Paternity Leave and Pay for fathers of children due on or after 3 April 2011. This would give fathers a right to up to six months’ leave which can be taken if the mother returns to work with maternity leave outstanding. Some of the leave may be paid if taken during the mother’s maternity pay period.

Parental leave

Parents also have the right to up to 13 weeks unpaid Parental Leave to care for a child. In November last year agreement was reached for a new European Parental Leave Directive. This will increase the minimum period of parental leave to four months. Member States will have two years to make the changes and the Government will consult on how to take this forward.

Time off in emergencies

If there is an unexpected emergency involving a family member, for example a child, partner or parent falling ill, the right to time off for dependants means that all employees can take a reasonable amount of (unpaid) time off to deal with the emergency and put other care arrangements in place.

The combination of these leave options and flexible working provide employees with a range of options to balance work and family life.


January 2010


This article has been written with the support of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, for which we are very grateful.

For further information visit www.direct.gov.uk/workandfamilies  or www.businesslink.gov.uk/workandfamilies 












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