In recent years, an array of family-friendly employment rights have been introduced to assist working parents with managing their childcare and work responsibilities. Maternity and paternity leave and pay has been increased, parents now have the right to time off for dependants, the right to request flexible working arrangements and to unpaid parental leave.
Whilst these changes have made a real, positive difference to some parents, ACAS and the TUC have expressed concern that they do not go far enough to assist with promoting and maintaining workplace equality for all.
The TUC has recently investigated the extent to which, in practice, these rights were assisting low paid working parents to manage their childcare and work responsibilities. In their report, ‘Better jobs for mums and dads’, the TUC have suggested a number of reforms to assist parents with juggling work and childcare responsibilities. These recommendations focus on the following:
- “how working practice should be reformed to help parents plan and afford their childcare more effectively;
- how employment rights should be reformed, so they really help young parents once they return to work; and
- how workplace culture needs to become more understanding of the needs of young parents.
ACAS have considered how organisations are managing flexible working following a return to work after taking an extended period of leave for parental/caring responsibilities and how organisations are then supporting people who work flexibly to maintain their career development, considering factors which may contribute to the gender pay gap.
The paper notes that “although the right to request flexible working has undoubtedly enabled those having taken it up to achieve a better work-life balance, the research evidence reviewed points to a cohort of female employees for whom the corollary has been: difficulty achieving equal pay with men; diminished opportunities for career development and promotion; and reduced career aspiration. Studies have found that those who worked flexibly were less likely to receive the top performance marks in appraisal and less likely to be promoted. There is also evidence of managers falling back on long hours working and visibility (‘passive face time’) as deciding factors when identifying best performers.”
ACAS concluded that “the key to enabling the career development of those who have had a period of leave and who work flexibly on return, is to focus on the development of business appropriate leave and flexible working policies and practices; not as a reactive response to a request for leave but on the basis of the benefits to the business of an agile and engaged workforce.”
A copy of the research paper, ‘Flexible working for parents returning to work: Maintaining career development’ is located here.