Families at work have had a quiet progression in rights over the past 10 years. Campaigners have been rigorously worked to reform maternity rights of women in the UK. These reforms which allow women to take maternity leave with less than two years’ service, and have allowed for extension of the right to maternity pay and the right to request flexible working may change if the new coalition government has their way.

Currently paternity leave entitles mothers to two weeks off in the eight-week period following the birth of a baby. The previous Labour Government introduced regulations under which a father would be able to share a period of maternity leave with his spouse or partner. The regulations came into force in April 2010 and affect parents of children due on or after 3 April 2011.

Under these regulations employed fathers have the right to take up to six months’ leave after the child is 20 weeks old and before the child’s first birthday. If the leave would have fallen during the mother’s statutory maternity pay period, the right to payment will also transfer to the father and so may in part be paid. This leave is in addition to existing statutory paternity rights.

Following the election of the coalition Government, it was initially unclear whether these changes would remain the same However, on 30 September 2010, Edward Davey, the employment relations minister, announced that the Government was committed to family-friendly working and workplaces and that these regulations would remain in force and as originally published.

Davey, however, also went on to say that the Government intended to introduce much more ambitious plans later in the year and that these regulations are to be regarded very much as an interim measure only.

The introduction of extended paternity leave from April 2011 will be accompanied by a further extension of the right to request flexible working. Current regulations allow parents of children under 17 or disabled children under 18 to request flexible working. A request can only be refused on certain limited grounds. From April 2011, this right will be extended to a further 300,000 people as pland t allow flexible working for parent with children under the age of 18.

Lynne Featherstone, the Equlaity Minister said: “This will be a long process involving wide ranging change, and today’s measures are the first stage in that journey.” The Government has already announced that it intends to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees and to introduce a system of flexible parental leave.