If not yet, we are certainly at risk in the UK of creating a "fatherhood penalty", as revealed by the Modern Families Index 2017, a report published by the work-life charity Working Families and Bright Horizons on 16 January 2017.

It revealed that the highest priority for fathers is family with a quarter of those fathers surveyed being involved in the school or nursery drop off each day.  While an encouraging 7 out of 10 fathers are working flexibly to manage family responsibilities it appears that half the fathers were experiencing stress as a result of their work-life balance. 

Are workplaces adapting to support the aspirations of working fathers?  The workplace culture in the UK is identified in the study as a key problem.  Not only are fathers working extra hours to manage their workload but they feel that they must be seen to be doing long hours.  Most would not tell their employer if they had childcare problems for fear of being negatively viewed.  This is perhaps unsurprising when the study revealed that nearly a fifth of employers is perhaps unsympathetic about childcare issues.

Are employers missing a trick?  The study found that 7 out of 10 fathers would consider childcare issues before taking a new job or promotion so employers may be losing good talent because of parenting priorities.

What are the rules relating to flexible working requests?

Since 30 June 2014, employees who have at least 26 weeks' continuous service, have had a statutory right to request flexible working (with a limit of 1 request in any 12 month period).  The request must be in writing and the employer then has a 3 month period in which to consider it, which may be extended by agreement.  Employers must deal with the request in a reasonable manner and may only refuse it for one or more of the 8 reasons set out in the legislation.  These are:

  • the burden of additional costs;

  • detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand;

  • inability to reorganise work among existing staff;

  • inability to recruit additional staff;

  • detrimental impact on quality;

  • detrimental impact on performance;

  • insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work; or

  • planned structural changes.

Employees making flexible working requests would be well-advised to think of arguments to counter these possible reasons for refusal and ensure that these are covered in the original request.

Employers should bear in mind the requirement to deal with the requests reasonably.  Discussion with the employee should take place, covering the benefits of the flexible working as well as possible issues and how they might be countered. Employers could agree to a change on a trial period in order to assess the impact.