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November 16, 2012

Flexible working reforms will create more red tape, say business groups

All employees will have the right to request flexible working under new legislation announced by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. In addition, working parents will be able to share up to a year's leave after the birth of a child.

However, the new legislation has attracted criticism from business groups concerned about the impact on small firms.

Under the new system, parents will be able to choose how they share the care of their child. From 2015, employed mothers will still be entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave, but working parents will have more flexibility about how they "mix and match" their leave. They may take it in turns or take it together, providing it is not more than 52 weeks in total.

Nick Clegg has said the move will be good for employers as well as staff. He said: "Reform is long overdue and the changes we are making will shatter the perception that women have to be the primary care-givers. This is good news not only for parents and parents-to-be, but employers too who will benefit from a much more flexible and motivated workforce."

However, the FSB has warned that administering flexible leave will put too much burden on small businesses. John Walker, FSB national chairman, said: "Most small firms offer flexible working because they recognise the business benefits in terms of greater productivity and staff morale. Extending the right to request flexible working will simply increase administrative pressures on the smallest of businesses at a time when the Government should be doing all it can to enable them to grow."

Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: "IoD members recognise the benefits of flexible working and have had policies for it for some time. But flexible working is not suitable for every employee or every business. Extending the right to request does not change this, it only creates more unnecessary form-filling and wasted time."

However, the reforms have been welcomed by Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). He said: "Employers should have nothing to fear and much to gain from embracing this change. In contrast to some of the rhetoric in sections of the media, it is also interesting to note that many small businesses make extensive use of flexible working and, because of their size and personal relationships with their employees, can be amongst the best at making it work."