The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Career phobia makes fathers not so flexible

London, April 5: Fathers are failing to capitalise on new flexible working time arrangements because they fear that it will mean “career death”, the UK government admitted last night.

Just one in 10 of those men eligible has asked to change hours, despite legislation which gives them the right to ask for flexible working, including only working during school terms, job sharing and working from home.

The admission came as the department of trade and industry publishes a survey today of 3,500 parents which claims an extraordinary response to the arrangements — but only among mothers. One in four women has asked to change hours, it says. Eight out of 10 have had their requests granted; another one in 10 has reached a compromise with the employer. But fathers are holding back because they think they will be passed over for promotion, or sidelined.

The survey coincides with Europe’s largest fatherhood conference, organised by Fathers Direct, which is being held in London.

The right to request flexible working was one of a number of measures, including two weeks’ paid paternity leave, introduced under the 2002 Employment Act, which came into force last April.

Those entitled to ask for it must have a child or children under six or a disabled child or children under 18.

Patricia Hewitt, the trade and industry secretary, said: “In so many organisations it’s acceptable for a woman to say ‘I have got children and I need to combine (that with work)’, although even then she might be regarded as not being serious about work commitments.

“But for a man to say he wants to balance work and family is so counter-cultural that many men fear it is going to be career death.”

Under the law, an employer need only give “serious consideration” to a request for flexible working and can refuse because of a “sound business reason”, such as additional costs. If an employee goes to a tribunal and wins, compensation is capped at £270 a week, for up to eight weeks.

Charities, including the Maternity Alliance, argue that even among those mothers who ask for flexible working when their children are young, many have to accept a cut in salary or job status. Contrary to the results of the latest survey, its research shows that a quarter of parents have had their request for flexible working refused.

Nearly half (45 per cent) said their employer did not know or follow the correct procedure for considering their request and 92 per cent said their employer refused a request for reasons not allowed by the law. “We want a new right for parents to reduce their hours if they return to work within one year of their baby’s birth,” said Liz Kendall of the Maternity Alliance.

“Too many parents are having their request refused for unjustifiable reasons.”

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