Small firms to be exempt from parental leave?

A report that small businesses may not be forced to follow maternity and paternity laws has led to warnings that any change may breach European laws.

A report that small businesses may not be forced to follow maternity and paternity laws has led to warnings that any change may breach European laws.
Reports surfaced at the weekend that Chancellor George Osborne may be considering exemptions for small firms in next week’s Budget.
A source told the Telegraph newspaper the Government may exempt firms with fewer than 10 employees from rights to extended or flexible parental leave in a bid to stimulate growth in the small business sector.
Under the plans, maternity leave and new plans to transfer leave between parents could be reduced for small firms and employers would be encouraged to negotiate directly with their employees, it was claimed.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has called for such measures to be implemented, because it says maternity and paternity leave are among the most complicated issues in the employment field.
Research carried out by the FSB shows half of small businesses rated maternity leave as very complex to administer.
The organisation has urged the Government to reform maternity and paternity leave by introducing a ”flexible leave” system to allow parents to choose their leave arrangements.
But leading lawyers have warned this approach could breach European laws.
Richard Linskell, from law firm Spreechly Bircham, said: ”It is unclear how the Government believes it can exempt smaller firms from maternity leave obligations, as it would be a clear breach of EU law.
”Maternity leave is a long established right and a key compenent of eliminating discrimination in the workplace and enhancing equality and diversity.
”Whilst the Government may be able to reduce some aspects of the entitlement so that it aligns with the EU minimum, they would not be able to dispense with it altogether.”
He said the idea of negotiating leave individually with employers would lead to more problems.
”There are critical issues for the Government to consider if they go ahead with this,” he said.
”How such deals would be negotiated is a legal minefield.  For example, would women be offered a job only if they contract out of their right to take maternity leave? The scope for abuse by employers is obvious and potentially hugely damaging to equality of opportunity as well as work-life balance.
”In the long run, small businesses could actually lose out on key talent as both women and men seek better options at large organisations.”
Liz Gardiner, from Working Families, said: ”I think it would be an incredibly retrograde step.  It is not actually clear what is going to happen, but the Government couldn’t just opt out of European regulations.
”The idea that everybody who works for a small employer should be negotiating an individual package of rights is just a nonsense.  It’s bad for business, bad for the economy, bad for parents and bad for children.
”It’s clear that when you are pregnant or your partner is expecting you are not in the best negotiating position.”

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