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26 Apr 2024
by Jennifer Liston-Smith

Family-inclusive legislation updates - Jennifer Liston-Smith

Bright Horizons’ Head of Thought Leadership gives a round-up of recent developments affecting work and family

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Family-inclusive legislation received a boost in early April when a week’s unpaid carer’s leave was introduced, the two weeks of paternity leave became a little more flexible, and redundancy protection was extended after maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.

Alongside this, in came the day one right to request flexible working.

HR News reported a tribunal case suggesting there may now be a presumption of a higher level of protection from redundancy for employees exercising rights related to family, given the intention of the legislative change.

With another tribunal case homing in on pregnancy discrimination, the Equality & Human Rights Commission has updated its guidance on the responsibilities of employers towards employees who have notified pregnancy or are taking maternity leave.

What’s next for family inclusion?

Beyond the legislative requirements, the boundaries of family support are ever-expanding, as with pet care or virtual tutoring for employees’ children.

A step beyond tutoring is for employers to help employees’ children to be the all-round future citizens they need to be, to thrive amid future shifts and trends.

Bright Horizons recently published a further report from the important Modern Families Index data, showing the future skills the UK’s parents believe their children will need given societal and technological change.

It found: “Parents believe their children will need resilience and interpersonal skills above technical skills like programming, maths and data analysis.

“Younger working parents (18-34) put their strongest emphasis on their children’s imagination, creativity and problem-solving, followed by resilience.

“These responses signify a societal shift from prioritising hard skills, in favour of learning resilience and flexible ‘soft’ skills, enabling individuals to connect with others in the face of an ever-changing landscape.”

French flexibility for co-parenting

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal is testing a scheme for divorced and separated parents in some government ministry roles to work a four-day week on the weeks they have their children, similar to a scheme he ran in the finance ministry.

Parents may well need to make up the hours during their other weeks, with the overall aim to encourage co-parenting.

A more well-trodden area of debate is the challenge of the summer holidays for working parents.

A piece by charity Working Families published in HR Magazine looking at a Nuffield Foundation-funded report on education inequalities, recommended a change to the school calendar in England.

It proposed shorter breaks (four weeks in the summer and two-week half-term holidays) for state schools. Of course, employers who provide parents with access to back-up care including school holiday clubs already have this covered.

Expanded childcare funding gets underway

The new 15-hour funded childcare places in England began this month for two-year-olds with working parents earning less than £100,000.

A blog on the government’s Education Hub also points to 12 May as the date for applying for the next tranche: September’s 15-hour places for children from nine months plus.

The final stage is planned for September 2025 when the funding rises to 30 hours (in term-time, equating to around 22 hours when averaged across the year).

Childcare and early education are increasingly seen as vital in enabling parents to work as well as providing a well-supported start for children.

There have been concerns among employers that employees may struggle to access places given new demand.

Personnel Today reported research findings from charity Coram that two-thirds of councils lack childcare places for full-time workers’ hours.

Quoting Bright Horizons, Managing Director, International, Ros Marshall, the article outlined issues faced by childcare providers across different regions:

“There is a stark difference in the systems and processes used by local authorities, often causing delays and unnecessary challenges in accessing funding for providers.”

Ros also underlined the role of employers: “More can be done beyond government funding.

“Fortunately, we’re seeing increasing support from forward-thinking employers; they recognise they can be part of the solution when it comes to the childcare challenges facing many working parents.

“Providing onsite nurseries and subsidised and emergency care provisions can support working parents to achieve more in their careers alongside their personal responsibilities.

“These businesses are recognising that childcare support is often an essential aspect of a successful organisation and is a mutually beneficial solution.”

The childcare cost trap

This theme was echoed by Employee Benefits magazine: “Challenges around finding and affording childcare can prevent parents from staying in work and progressing their careers.

“Onsite nurseries, workplace nursery schemes, and subsidised and emergency childcare provisions can enable them to balance care responsibilities with their work.”

Paul Quartly, Client Services Lead at Bright Horizons, adds the wider context: “UK employers are in the midst of a recruitment challenge and skills shortage, and family friendly policies are key to addressing this.

“They help to create equal opportunities by ensuring talent can engage equally at home and work. When these are in place, we see improved recruitment, retention and productivity, as well as reduced absences.”

This support can be make or break. HRreview reported a study by savings and retirement business Phoenix Group showing 43% of women and 15% of men with children under the age of five had reduced their working hours or left the workforce due to “the financial burden of childcare”.

Gender pay gaps

Bright Horizons Chief Digital and Transformation Officer, Priya Krishnan wrote in HR Magazine about a worrying backward step on gender equity that emerged in this year's Modern Families Index.

“The findings reveal working parents find their employers less sympathetic than they were a year ago and working mothers are disproportionately affected.

“Overall, 72% of working parents feel confident their employer will take account of their family responsibilities and treat them fairly (down from 75% last year). This is just 69% of women against 75% of men.”

Meanwhile, research by the University of Warsaw studying 937 UK managers found remote working was associated with lower rates of promotion and pay rises.

A gender penalty was being paid by men: fully remote male workers faced a 15% lower likelihood of promotion and 10% decreased chance of receiving a pay increase compared with their office-based counterparts.

The figures for women were a 7% fall in promotion likelihood and an 8% decrease in probability of a pay rise.

The stronger negative impact of remote working for men could be linked with what Dr Jasmine Kelland called the fatherhood forfeit. Men who choose to work flexibly around their family may encounter unwarranted assumptions about lack of ambition.

In partnership with Bright Horizons Work+Family Solutions

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