By Marcus Leach

The Government has launched a consultation on plans to introduce a new system of flexible parental leave from 2015 as part of its plans to create a modern workplace for the modern economy.

Current regulations are too rigid, reflect outdated notions of parenting and family responsibilities and restrict employers. Ministers want to help parents and business by giving them much greater choice and flexibility.

Under the proposals, once the early weeks of maternity and paternity leave have ended, parents will be able to share the overall leave allowance between them. Unlike the current system this leave could be taken in a number of different blocks and both parents could take leave at the same time.

Crucially employers would have the ability to ensure that the leave must be taken in one continuous period if agreement can not be reached. They will be able to ask staff to return for short periods to meet peaks in demand or to require that leave is taken in one continuous block, depending on business needs.

The 'Modern Workplaces' consultation seeks to build a new consensus around greater flexibility, which also includes plans to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.

“Our proposals will encourage greater choice by giving employees and their employers the flexibility to find arrangements to suit them both," Business Secretary Vince Cable said.

"New parents should be able to choose their childcare arrangements for themselves, rather than being dictated to by rigid Government regulation as is currently the case. And employers should be encouraged to come to agreement with employees on how work and family responsibilities can be met simultaneously.

“These measures are fairer for fathers and maintain the existing entitlements for mothers — but crucially give parents much greater choice over how to balance their work and family commitments.

“Of course I’m mindful of the need to minimise the costs, bureaucracy and complexities on businesses. This has been at the forefront of my mind throughout the development of our proposals. So we will ensure that businesses will still be able to take into account their needs when agreeing how leave can be taken. But I’m also confident that we have a good case to make on the wider benefits to business - not least from a motivated and flexible workforce and we will be making this case to employers over the next few years before these changes are introduced.”

Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Theresa May said:

“Britain’s workplace laws are in need of modernisation. We have made great strides in addressing explicit discrimination in the workplace, but disadvantage persists. The solution to these challenges, though, is not more bureaucracy, top-down intervention and politically correct quotas, but policies that go with the grain of human nature and maximise flexibility and choice. That is why we will extend the right to request flexible working to all and introduce a new system of flexible parental leave both of which will contribute to our commitment to closing down the gender pay gap. But where there is evidence of discrimination we will punish it, so we will introduce mandatory pay audits for companies that are found guilty of pay discrimination.”

Work and Pensions Minister, Maria Miller said:

“For far too long flexible working has been dismissed as a burden on business, when in fact the most successful businesses understand the important role it can play in recruiting and retaining the right staff. We need to move flexible working away from being the exception, to being considered a normal way to work.

“With more people working past retirement and more disabled people wanting to get into work, flexible working is something most people will want to consider at some point in their working life.”

The landmark consultation is the latest step in the Government’s comprehensive review of employment law. It has already removed the Default Retirement Age and published plans to reform the way in which workplace disputes are resolved. Ministers want to make it easier for businesses to employ people, grow and boost opportunities but also for people to balance work and family commitments.