More parents are to get the right to request flexible working patterns.
The government has said that it plans to extend the right to ask for more flexible ways of working to parents of children aged under 18 as from April 2011.
A consultation will also be launched later this year on the feasibility of allowing everyone the right to make the request.
At the moment, parents of children aged up to 17, parents of disabled children aged under 18 and carers of certain adults can ask their employers to consider alternative work patterns so that they achieve a better balance between work and home.
The extension by a year of the age of the children involved will mean that a further 300,000 working parents will come within the regulation.
Meanwhile, the consultation on broadening the right to all employees will form part of the government’s ongoing review of employment legislation.
To qualify for making a request, workers must be continuously employed by the same employer for more than 26 weeks.
Approximately 10.5 million employees are currently eligible under the right (8 million parents and 2.65 million carers of adults).
Carers are eligible when they care, or expect to care, for a spouse, partner, civil partner or relative or live at the same address as the person being cared for.
Under the regulation, employees can ask for a change in their contractual working pattern. Employers have a statutory duty to consider each request seriously, but they can reject a request if there is a clear business reason for doing so.
Edward Davey, the Employment Relations Minister, said: “We want to help parents and create a fairer, family friendly society. We will be launching a consultation later this year to make sure the law better supports real families juggling work and family life, and the businesses that employ them.
“This immediate change will give parents of all children regardless of age the same right to request flexible working. It will also make it simpler for employers and employees to identify whether they are eligible to make a request.
“The plans we’ll unveil later this year are much more ambitious but these interim measures will help us learn valuable lessons and are an important first step.”
Equalities Minister, Lynne Featherstone added: “A family-friendly workplace is a business-friendly workplace. Companies are missing out the skills and talents of too many people who are forced to choose between raising a family and having a job, so we will be working with businesses to change this in a way that will make life better for employers, employees and the economy.
“This will be a long process involving wide-ranging change, and today’s measures are the first stage in that journey.”
The government also announced that the Additional Paternity Leave regulations will remain in force as an interim measure.
Under the regulations, which were introduced in April 2010 and apply to parents of children due on or after 3 April 2011, fathers have a right to up to six months extra leave which can be taken once the mother has returned to work.
Some of the leave may be paid if taken during the mother’s maternity pay period. This is paid at 90 per cent of earnings up to the same standard rate as Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) which is currently £124.88 per week.
This new provision will be available during the second six months of the child’s life, giving parents the option of dividing a period of paid leave entitlement between them.