A new piece of employment legislation, which has been largely overshadowed by the lead up to the new...
A new piece of employment legislation, which has been largely overshadowed by the lead up to the new age discrimination regulations, received Royal Assent on 21 June 2006.
Despite its low profile, the arrival of the Work and Families Act 2006 has been hailed by the Government as a benefit to "thousands of working families and carers".
However, the Act has received a very mixed response, with particular criticism coming from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
The main provisions of the Work and Families Act are:
lAn extension of maternity and adoption pay from six to a maximum of 12 months, to be initially extended to nine months from April 2007.
lAn extension of the right to request flexible working for carers of adults, to take effect next April. This should include those responsible for caring for a spouse, partner and parents and may be extended to caring for aunts, uncles and siblings.
lA right for employed fathers to take additional paternity leave, including 'sharing' leave with a mother who returns to work after six months but before the end of her maternity leave.
lThe ability to work without losing maternity leave/pay rights. Employees may agree to attend training or work a limited number of days in order to keep in touch with the business.
lA power to extend annual leave entitlement to a minimum of 28 days from the current four-week holiday entitlement under the Working Time Regulations.
Good or bad?
The Government has been eager to point out the benefits of the Act to business, in particular:
lHelping employers to introduce measures to improve their administration of maternity, paternity and adoption pay.
lIncreasing the notice period for women changing their return-to-work dates following maternity leave to two months, allowing employers to plan more effectively.
lEmployers can make reasonable contact with their employees on maternity leave to help them with planning and easing the mother's return to work.
However, concerns have been raised by the FSB and other employer organisations. The Government has laid the burden of administering the additional paternity leave on employers. The FSB argue this may well tip small businesses, already struggling to cope with the average 28 hours a month form-filling, over the edge.
Furthermore, the system may be open to abuse by fathers working in two different jobs, taking paternity leave from one while increasing his hours at the other.
The provision of more flexible working may also increase the difficulty for employers to balance the need to accommodate their employees' requests with the requirement to keep a happy, motivated, productive workforce.
With the implementation of many of these provisions fast approaching in April 2007, employers need to start planning now. It is too early to say whether the impact of the Act will be as negative as the FSB maintain, but it is certain the changes, while benefiting many in the workplace, will increase the administrative burden on employers.
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