International Trends in the Legal Regulation of Work and Family Life

63 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2008

Date Written: February 28, 2008


1. This report describes a significant trend towards legal intervention in the labour market to achieve more effective resolution of work and family life. Change has been promoted by national governments, and international institutions including the International Labour Organisation and those of the European Union.

2. A range of different measures and standards have been created. In some cases, there are now very significant leave entitlements designed to increase the capacity of workers to reconcile their commitments to work and family life.

For example, . maternity leave (up to 52 weeks' paid) [UK] . parental leave : three years prior to child's eighth birthday [Germany] . emergency leave : 60 paid days per worker per year to care for a child under twelve [Sweden] . access to part-time work : 'right' to change hours, subject only to serious business objections [Netherlands and Germany] . quality of part-time work : prohibition on discriminatory conditions vis-à-vis comparable full-time work [all EU States]

3. Definitions of the field covered by 'work and family' are becoming more flexible. So, for example . UK law permits workers to request 'reasonable time off' to care for non-family members, where the worker is the only person available to undertake this task in a care emergency . Irish law provides up to 130 weeks' leave for a worker who is the primary care giver to, for example, both disabled parents . Canadian law (British Columbia) recognises leave for family responsibilities in broad terms, as related to 'care, health or education'; Ontario defines as 'parent' as 'a person who is in a relationship of some permanence with a parent of a child and who plans on treating the child as his or her own'.

4. Much of this recent regulation is designed specifically to establish a legal framework of principles and processes within which implementation can occur at the workplace, through individual or collective bargaining.

5. Assessments of the outcomes of systems of work-life regulation are emerging. On balance, the early evidence from the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands suggests that the new rules have increased workers' use of flexible work and have not led to a sharp increase in contested matters before industrial tribunals and the courts. There is some evidence that employer groups, many of whom opposed the introduction of the new laws, have worked well with the new systems. The predicted catastrophic consequences have either not occurred, or have not yet been reported in the research available thus far. An exception appears to be the USA, where the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 is claimed by some employers as a major fetter on their ability to compete.

Suggested Citation

Murray, Jillian G., International Trends in the Legal Regulation of Work and Family Life (February 28, 2008). Latrobe Law School Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 2008-06, Available at SSRN: or

Jillian G. Murray (Contact Author)

La Trobe Law School ( email )

La Trobe University
Bundoora, VIC 3083 3142

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