There are fears that extensions to maternity leave could harm women’s career prospects. Sainsbury’s Human Resources director, Imelda Walsh, had to defend her proposals to extend flexible working laws after it was suggested that this measure would encourage employers to avoid hiring women at a child-bearing age.

It has been noted that women have the overwhelming majority when it comes to using the flexible working laws so far. To counter this, paid and extended paternity leave have been introduced, but then the fear has become that too much pressure is being put on employers to cater for parents at work.

Walsh’s proposals have now come into place in the form of the right to request flexible working hours being extended from only applying to parents of children under the age of 6 to applying to the parents of children under the age of 16. Walsh has also called for the government to address the issues of culture and gender that are making men feel less confident about requesting flexible working hours. She has further called for the government to provide practical solutions regarding parental rights for SMEs who are experiencing difficulty trying to organise their work.

The CIPD have acknowledged that organisations are aggravated by the current rights available to parents, and that although large employers tend to hire as fairly as possible since they have the capacity to take the hit, smaller employers are slower to take on women for fear that they may prove unreliable.

Supporters of more flexible hours for women suggest that changing maternity laws will not hamper women’s careers, but rather send the message that women can spend proper time off with children and still have a career.

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