Flexible working isn’t practical for all firms, says CBI

The Deputy Prime Minister will on Tuesday set out proposals that give all workers the right to demand flexible working. At present, only parents and carers have the right to ask their employer for reduced or part-time hours, reports The Telegraph.

Mr Clegg is also expected to unveil proposals to allow mothers and fathers to share parental leave just a fortnight after a birth, in an attempt to de-stigmatise flexible working patterns and allow grandparents to structure their hours to help with childcare.

Mr Clegg is expected to say: “Giving everyone this new right will help drive a culture shift in the workplace. And it will be possible for other relatives, grandparents and even close family friends to change the way they work in order to help with child care.”

But businesses have warned that flexible working is not always practical for all firms. At the same time, critics point out that companies can still refuse demands as long as they provide a “business” reason, meaning Mr Clegg’s proposals may not change much in reality as companies can draw upon several accepted when denying a request.

Katja Hall, CBI chief policy director, said: “Flexible parental leave is a good way to support working families and businesses realise that this helps to retain talent. We must ensure that the new system is simple to administer, and does not give rise to legal action from fathers seeking parental rights that mirror those available to mothers.

“Companies support the right of all staff to request flexible working, but they must be able to decide each case on its merits, as it may not be practical for all firms.”

Simon Walker, Director General of the Institute of Directors, said the business group supported efforts to help women reach their full potential in the workplace.

However, he said: “Being able to split leave flexibly will be attractive to parents, but will inevitably increase uncertainty for employers, who must be given suitable notice beforehand.”

He said the Government had “listened” to businesses who were concerned about increasing the amount of dedicated leave for fathers. “Any extra leave would clearly have been an additional burden for employers. The more time parents take off, the more difficult it is for employers, particularly small ones, to manage the disruption,” he said.

Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “We support the concept of flexible working, but the proposals to extend the right to request to all workers could make it more difficult for employers to offer flexibility to employees who are parents or have caring duties.

“Many employees already benefit from flexible working and in the rare cases where an employer feels they cannot support flexible working, a burdensome new consideration process is very unlikely to change that view.”

He added: “Unfortunately, the Government’s current proposals risk causing unnecessary friction between parents and employers, and raise unrealistic expectations about the level of flexibility most businesses will be able to accommodate. The Government’s plans will also generate major uncertainty for employers, as they will represent the seventh change to parental leave in a decade, and the government is already talking about another change in 2018, hardly the sort of stability that ministers say they want to promise to businesses.”

He added that the BCC could not accept proposals encouraging parents to request patterns of shared leave alternating between them in chunks, as small as a week, and if the government is planning a review in 2018, “it would make sense to delay this controversial element until that review”.

“Few employers will be able to find adequate cover over an extended but non-continuous period. We believe that such requests will almost always be rejected as unworkable, causing unnecessary stress to the relationship between employer and employee.”