Many dads unaware of UK laws on flexible work, study finds

Jamie Doward
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Katherine Anne Rose/The Observer

On the school run, James Ling sticks out. “I’ve noticed that I’m one of the few dads who does the pick-up,” said the 39-year-old, who is at the school gates every day at 3pm to greet his daughter, four-year-old Isabelle.

“There are a lot of grandparents, a lot of mums, but few of us dads. I get the feeling that not a lot of people have the same advantage as me.”

Ling, who works for a PR and digital marketing company in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, has a flexible-working agreement with his employer. But many fathers in the UK are unaware that they have the right to ask their employer for arrangements that allow them to go part-time or job-share, according to new research. And employers, too, appear unclear on what they must be willing to consider.

A new study in the journal Work, Employment and Society, published by the British Sociological Association, has found that 10% of mothers and 30% of fathers do not know that they have the right to ask their employer to consider changes to how they work.

Among part-time workers, 58% of men did not know that they might be eligible, compared with 22% of women. And more than four out of five – 81%– of men did not know they were eligible for a job share, compared with 70% of women.

Researchers found that fathers in lower supervisory and technical occupations were more than twice as likely to be unaware that working reduced hours could be an option for them as professional or managerial fathers.

Those who worked in organisations without a union presence were almost twice as likely to be ignorant of their rights as those who did.

Since 2003, all employees who have been in their job for at least six months have a legal right to request flexible working arrangements. Self-employed workers are excluded.

In turn, employers must deal with requests in a “reasonable manner”. This might include showing that they have weighed up the pros and cons of an application, met to discuss the request with the employee and offered an appeal process.

The researchers found

that only around a quarter of managers know that employees can request a change to how they work.

Related: Physical play with fathers may help children control emotions, study finds

One of the academics involved in the study, Dr Rose Cook of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, said that ensuring employees knew their rights regarding flexible working was particularly important given the risks of working in proximity to colleagues during the current pandemic.

“The Covid-19 crisis has shown us it is possible to make huge changes to working practices rapidly and at scale. Let’s make hours reduction for fathers part of this conversation.”

Like many fathers, Ling was originally hazy about his rights. “I was sort of aware [I could apply] but not 100%. You hear talk of it on the radio but don’t necessarily think, ‘that applies to me’.”

Under his flexible-working agreement, Ling works from home two days a week. “I stop at about 3pm and go to pick my daughter up and look after her until my wife comes. Then I go back to work and start again.

He concedes that breaking off means he loses some momentum, but adds: “The plus side is I get to see my daughter growing up.”

That his company has allowed him to work flexibly has heightened his sense of loyalty to his employer. “I know how fortunate I am to be working with people who think this way.”