Employers demand concessions on maternity leave extension


The government's proposals to extend family-friendly working rights will impose an enormous burden on small companies unless legislation reflects the needs of employers as well as employees.

In particular, employers groups are demanding that the government makes women give more notice of return to work and takes back administration of maternity pay

According to John Cridland, Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the current arrangements around maternity leave notification periods leave too much room for uncertainty.

"Return to work notice periods should be increased to three months and employers need to be able to contact mothers during maternity leave to confirm when they will be returning to work," he said.

Carol Undy of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), agreed:

"All leave comes at a cost. Although the Government says that it will meet the direct costs of extending paid maternity leave, the employer will be left footing the bill for recruiting temporary cover.

"The reality is that employers find administering maternity rights a headache. The government should pay Statutory Maternity Pay direct and ensure that mothers away on maternity leave update their employer on a monthly basis about if and when they expect to return to work."

Cridland also warned that plans to allow both parents to share maternity leave could be an administrative nightmare.

"Keeping track of which parent was exercising which right would potentially pose an administrative nightmare and it would be unreasonable to expect firms to police this system.

"The government must present business with an easy administration system to coordinate shared maternity leave."

Cridland also stressed that the proposals to extend the right to request flexible working to all 4.5 million parents of school-age children and 1.8 million people who look after sick or disabled relatives did not mean that all such requests would be granted.

"Business has supported flexible working and the new right to request has been a huge success since its introduction in 2003, with eight out of ten requests accepted," he said.

"But any expansion of the right to request flexible working to new groups must be introduced gradually and be targeted where demand is greatest - companies are unable to provide flexible working to all people, all of the time."

Carol Undy also complained that new rights to flexible working were coming thick and fast, without a proper assessment of their impact so far.

"It is vital that firms are allowed to turn down requests for flexible working when there are genuine business reasons,” she said.

Meanwhile Richard Wilson, Head of Business Policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD), pointed out that three-quarters of employers believe that it is morally right to have family-friendly practices because such policies improve productivity, staff-retention, employee recruitment and staff morale.

”What is clear from our own research is that employers generally want to adopt family friendly policies, not only because it is the right thing to do but also because it makes good business sense," he said.

"That said, businesses, particularly smaller businesses, need much more assistance from Government to implement these policies.”

The IoD also said that an extension of the right to request flexible work from parents with children aged under six to carers who look after sick or disabled relatives and to parents of older children could be manageable, but that the success of such a scheme depended on the detail.