Women in zero-hours contracts or part-time employment are left out of family-friendly work arrangements mainly aimed at standard full-time employees.

Women with caring obligations who are often most in need of family-friendly working arrangements too often find themselves outside the protection of family-friendly employment rights, says new research.

The three-year qualitative project explored the experiences of women with non-standard, 'precarious' work arrangements such as zero hours contracts, short-term contracts and part-time work. "My aim was to investigate how well current labour law responds to these non-standard, but increasingly prevalent, work patterns," explains Dr Emily Grabham.

"Many women take precarious work because they believe it will make it easier for them to balance their commitments to care for children or elderly family members," Dr Grabham continues. "But, as labour laws are currently framed, these women cannot take advantage of many of the family-friendly work arrangements that are intended to help workers achieve a better work-life balance."

Current family-friendly employment rights include the right to request flexible working, unpaid time off to deal with care emergencies, maternity/paternity/adoption leave and pay, and shared parental leave. "The exclusions on many of these rights – for example, that a person must have worked a qualifying period of 26 weeks or be classed as 'employed' – means that those in precarious work do not qualify," she points out.

The UK Government is currently ignoring the fact that very many workers are denied access to family-friendly working arrangements, she suggests. "The Taylor Review (July 2017) which is the largest recent review of work law and practice failed to address the issue."

This blindspot has arisen, the study suggests, because most UK labour law is based on the 'standard employment relationship' (SER) – a relic of the post-World War Two industrial era. The SER assumes that most workers are in permanent, full time work with a single employer, and do not have any obligations to care for children or dependents.

"If Government is serious about work-life balance it must remove the 26-week qualifying period and make family-friendly rights accessible to those in a wider range of working arrangements," she concludes. "Crucially, Government also needs to establish an oversight body that investigates whether employers are meeting their legal responsibilities, rather than place the onus on the worker to take their case to an employment tribunal."