Letter: Work and the family

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Deborah Orr ("Welcome to a two-tier society", 13 January) rightly identifies the macho culture of presenteeism as an impediment to genuine equality at the workplace and in wider society. Many women want to work flexibly once they have started a family. Enlightened employers are happy for them to do so, whether on a job share or some other basis.

Employers wedded to full-time work can be forced to think otherwise, but only through the tortuous route of indirect sex discrimination claims. To succeed a woman must prove to the satisfaction of an employment tribunal that she "could not comply" with her employer's insistence on full-time work. Usually the claim is only brought once the woman has been forced to resign in order to deal with her childcare commitments.

The Government has an opportunity to rectify this situation in the Fairness at Work Bill, shortly to begin its parliamentary passage. A chapter in that Bill on family-friendly working will contain some improvements to maternity and paternal leave arrangements. If the Government is really serious about making work more family-friendly, it should include a positive right for all workers to work flexibly, subject only to proof by the employer that the job must for good business reasons be performed full-time.


London NW5