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Flexible-working rights for parents extended

Businesses will be required to consider flexible-working requests from more of their employees due to a change to employment law
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

From Monday, businesses will be required to consider flexible-working requests from more of their employees, a change in the law that is likely to boost home working.

Legislation dating from 2003 allowed parents with children under the age of six to request flexible-working conditions from employers, who were obliged to "seriously consider" such applications and reject them only if there were "good business reasons for doing so".

The law has now been extended to parents with children up to the age of 16, making approximately 4.5 million more employees eligible. Six million parents and carers are already covered by the law. The change is designed to make working conditions more family-friendly, the government said in a statement.

More than 95 percent of all requests for flexible-working conditions from working parents and carers are now accepted, according to government figures. The government insisted that flexible working has business benefits as well, including increased productivity and reduced costs for recruitment due to increased staff loyalty.

"The business benefits of flexible working are well documented and this remains the case in tougher economic times," said employment relations minister Pat McFadden, in the statement.

The government said that may need to plan for increased IT support costs for arrangements such as remote working.

Intellect, a trade body representing IT and software organisations, said businesses could use the law as an opportunity to develop a flexible-working strategy.

"Flexible-working opportunities can make a business more attractive to different types of employee," Carrie Hartnell, head of industry strategy, told ZDNet UK on Monday. "For example, this could be an opportunity to bring more women into the workforce, particularly in the IT sector. This could also allow workers to be located potentially across the country."

She said flexible working could be especially useful to smaller businesses, which could make their workplaces more attractive through flexible-working opportunities.

About one-third of flexible workers work from home, and a slightly smaller percentage, 32.2 percent, work part-time, according to a survey carried out in 2008 by the IT Job Board. The survey found that of more than 900 IT workers polled, more than half worked flexibly.

But those polled said a significant stigma was still attached to flexible working, with nearly one-fifth saying they believed flexible working has a negative effect on career progression.

Hartnell acknowledged that while it does still carry a stigma, the extension of flexible working could help improve this situation. "If more people start to work flexibly, hopefully this stigma will change," she said.

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