Parents’ rights misunderstood

There is widespread ignorance among employees about new rights for parents
to request flexible working options, research by the Equal Opportunities
Commission finds.

Four in 10 workers are not aware of new regulations under the Employment Act
due to come into effect on 6 April, which give working parents the right to
request flexible working arrangements. Employers can reject requests if there
is a business case for doing so.

The results of a survey released yesterday were published as the EOC embarks
on a major campaign to raise awareness and give parents – particularly fathers
– the confidence to make use of this new right.

The study of 800 employees also finds that on hearing more about this new
law, almost three-quarters of the respondents were in favour of its aims, with
only 3 per cent disagreeing, suggesting that potential resentment from
childless colleagues is less of an issue than previously thought.

However, despite this ground-swell of support, a sixth of respondents
believe their bosses would not respond positively to requests for flexibility,
while nearly half are unsure of their bosses’ likely reactions.

Julie Mellor, chairwoman of the EOC, said the survey reveals the public
needs more information about the new rights to apply for flexible working
options, which stand to affect 3.7 million parents. She said providing flexible
working has clear business benefits and called on employers to help ensure
their staff are aware of their new rights.

"In the real world, most adults will have caring responsibilities in
their life, and companies that don’t help them meet this need will suffer.
Research shows 90 per cent of employers which have introduced flexible working
arrangements say that the benefits exceed the cost," she said.

The campaign is supported by new guides to flexible working aimed at working
parents and at employers, which are available from the EOC helpline on 0845 601
5901 or via its website.

The EOC website also features dedicated pages on the new right, with case studies
to illustrate how flexible working can be implemented successfully.

By Ben Willmott

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