Many employers in Britain are worried that new legal rights for working mothers and fathers are set to cause significant difficulties and add to the growing administrative burden of employment legislation.
A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and consultants KPMG has found that a mere one in10 employers surveyed think that any of the provisions of the Work and Families Act (WFA) (2006) will bring any benefits to their organisations.
The legislation will, from April 2007, extend maternity and adoption pay from 6 to 9 months and extend the right to request flexible working to carers of adults.
In addition the Act enables the Government to introduce a new right to fathers of up to 26 weeks additional paternity leave - some of which could be paid if the mother returns to work - and the extension of maternity pay to 12 months.
Smaller employers are even more likely than larger employers to cite potential difficulties and less likely to see potential benefits, the survey found.
Almost two-thirds of employers surveyed think that the paternity leave provisions of the WFA 2006 will cause them either some or significant difficulties while six out of 10 think the maternity and adoption pay provisions will cause problems. Attitudes towards extending the right to request flexible working are more positive, with only four per cent of employers saying that the new right for carers to request flexible working will cause them significant difficulties.
But while a third said they do expect some problems a similar proportion are strongly in favour of extending the right to all employees – mindful, perhaps, of the growing resentment of non-parents in the workplace towards the raft of rights enjoyed by those with children.
Mike Emmott, CIPD Employee Relations Adviser, argued that the findings do not necessarily indicate hostility to the new legislation.
"However, it is clear from the survey that there is evident scepticism about some of the WFA provisions, especially those relating to paternity leave, and concern about the difficulties that might arise in meeting them.
"It is possible that such reservations simply reflect the caution with which employers tend to embrace any new regulations. But the Government needs to reassure employers about the administration of the new provisions.
Rachel Campbell, Head of People Management at KPMG, said that the business cases for diversity and flexible working are compelling.
"Organisations are aiming to attract the very best talent in the marketplace from the widest talent pool. To be successful we recognise the need to truly embrace flexible working whilst balancing this with the needs of our clients. It is not sufficient to merely have it 'on offer' and it not credible for it to be labelled as something only relevant to women.
"We have been able to support 12 per cent of our employees undertaking some form of flexible working and 25 per cent of those taking up the options are men. The Working Families Act provides additional statutory support for the choices that carers and fathers face in this respect and we believe that implementation of the changes is in line with our strategy for being a first choice employer for our people."