Creating a fairer Britain
The Equality Act came into force on 1 October 10. Some of the information on this page may be out of date.
We have produced a comprehensive online toolkit to help employers manage pregnant employees, expectant parents and new parents.
You can also find information about maternity and paternity rights and obligations on the Direct Gov website.; and on the Acas website you can find information, including employers questions about: maternity rights | paternity leave and pay | adoption leave and pay | flexible working | leave for working parents
Parents of children younger than six, or younger than 18 in the case of disabled children, have the right to apply for flexible working. The new procedure is not an automatic right to work flexibly but employers have a statutory duty to treat requests seriously.
To be eligible, employees must have completed 26 weeks’ continuous service with their employer.
Employees are able to request a change to the hours they work, a change to the times when those hours must be worked, or to work from home. Options include job sharing and term-time working.
Mothers have successfully claimed that a refusal to allow flexibility indirectly discriminates against them. This is on the basis that a requirement to work full time, for example, is likely to impact on their role as the primary carer of dependants. Men can claim unlawful discrimination if their request to work flexibly is treated less favourably than a similar request by a female colleague, and vice versa.
There is a formal procedure for employers and their employees to follow. Employees who are eligible to request flexible working have the option to take their claim to an employment tribunal if they think their employer has not followed the correct procedure.
Rights to parental leave and leave for dependants were introduced in the UK under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) by the Maternity and Parental Leave Regulations 1999. Each parent can take 13 weeks for each child, or 18 weeks if the child is disabled. Parental leave is, at present, unpaid.
Parental leave in the UK is restricted to the period before a child is 5 years old, (or 18 if the child is disabled) or within five years of placement (and before the child is 18) in the case of adoption.
Parents whose children were born or adopted before 15 December 1999 had to take their parental leave by 31 March 2005. In the case of a disabled child, they have until their child’s 18th birthday to take the leave.
Employees have a right to take time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant and not to be dismissed or victimised. There is no length of service requirement for this right so it is accessible to a far greater proportion of the workforce than have a right to parental leave.
There is no right to paid leave but some employers have agreements in place to give paid time off for emergencies. Employees that have to take time off for an emergency are further stressed by a loss of income at this time and value an employer that provides paid emergency leave.
Employers may include a wider definition of who is included, but the legislation states that a dependant is:
In the case of illness, injury or breakdown of care arrangements a dependant may include:
The right is designed to enable time off to be taken to deal with an unexpected problem and to put in place longer-term arrangements for a dependant when:
The EOC, one of the former commissions, undertook a detailed investigation in 2004/5 into the causes discrimination against new and expectant mothers in the workplace. This was a statutory investigation under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. The interim and full reports containing the findings and recommendations for action can be downloaded below: