Women's careers are under threat due to the radical extension of maternity leave, the head of the new equality watchdog has warned.
The chief executive of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Nicola Brewer, said with the prospect of mothers taking a year off after each birth, employers are thinking twice about offering jobs or promotions to women.
In an interview with the Times, she said her concerns were underlined by the entrepreneur Sir Alan Sugar saying that many employers simply binned CVs of women of child-bearing age.
She now fears that plans to extend the right of parents to request flexible working hours until their oldest child was 16 will only exacerbate the problem.
"The Work and Families Act has not freed parents and given them real choice. It is based on assumptions, and some of the terms reinforce the traditional pattern of women as the carers of children," she said.
"We have come a long way but after winning all these gains it is worth asking: are we still on the right track? The thing I worry about is that the current legislation and regulations have had the unintended consequence of making women a less attractive prospect to employers."
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Liesel Whitfield from law firm Irwin Mitchell's employment team said: "Over the last few years employers have had to adjust to a number of legislative changes which have given more entitlements to employees, both male and female. Undoubtedly some of those changes have created challenges for businesses, particularly small and medium-sized employers, both in accommodating new working patterns and in coping with the changes that those different working patterns bring.
"In the case of flexible working, employers are entitled to reject a request on the basis of one of a number of specified reasons, as long as they have first given the request serious consideration. Employers should bear this in mind, and also bear in mind the positive consequences of retaining good quality employees whose circumstances have changed."