New flexible working rules are helping parents to see more of their young children - but may make many families worse off, a survey has suggested.
All parents of young children can ask for working changes
Government figures show almost eight out of 10 employees had their requests for flexible working granted.
But the poll by Maternity Alliance reveals those who ask for flexible working practices often have to accept a pay cut or drop in job status.
The survey found a quarter of parents were unaware of last year's law change.
The new rules say parents with a child under six can ask employers for a change in working hours, day or location of work, provided they have been with the employer for six months.
The employer can only refuse for a number of specific business reasons.
The poll found 68% of parents who asked had their request accepted, while requests from 25% were turned down.
These included such minor changes as arriving or finishing 15 minutes early.
Nine out of 10 of those parents whose requests were refused said it was done for unjustified reasons.
Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt, also Minister for Women, said she hoped support for flexible working would encourage more parents to raise the issue.
She said: "With more women in work than ever before, employers cannot afford to ignore the benefits of flexible working, including recruitment, retention and staff morale."
But Maternity Alliance said while 25% of parents said their working conditions had improved, 27% said their situation had worsened.
Liz Kendall, Maternity Alliance director, said the government's 2006 review of the system must address these problems.
"Many parents feel forced to accept a cut in salary or job status in order to secure at least some flexibility in their work," she said.
"Others continue to struggle to juggle long hours and heavy workloads or decide to give up work completely."
Dave Prentis, general secretary of public service union Unison, said they had wanted the legislation to give employees the right to flexible working, not the right to ask.
"Our fear was that most employers would find a reason to refuse.
"Unfortunately these fears are borne out by this survey, which shows that employers are turning down reasonable requests for more flexible working."
Meanwhile, parental rights campaigners Fathers Direct are urging the government to increase paternity leave pay to 90% of earnings, up from the current £100 per week.
Does 'flexible working' work for you?
Is your boss happy for you to put the family first - or are you having trouble and suffer a financial loss as a result?
BBC News Online readers told us their experiences.
I am a single mother and I work in Computers. My daughter has been in full-time nursery from the age of 8 months. I work a shift pattern of 9-5 and I also used to be able to cover the other peoples shifts if they were on holiday (the shifts are 8-4 and 11-7). I cannot do this anymore as the nursery opens at 8a.m and they close at 6pm. My employer said that I could return to work for 5 months doing 9-5 and then after that I would have to make other arrangements so that I can cover shifts.
I offered to do the shifts from home and was turned down. My five months is nearly up and my situation has not changed. I need to work as I have a mortgage to pay. I feel as if I am being backed into a corner and I dont know what to do. My daughter comes first, she is only 11 months old.
I am not sure what all my rights are or if I have any rights. All I know is that I dont think I am being treated fairly because if my department did not know how to cater for people with children then they should have expressed it in my interview 3years and 6 months ago!
Natasha, London England
I recently enquired about the option of Home Working, to spend more time at home with my family. I didn't make the complete official request, as the informal chat wasn't very encouraging.
However, having said that, my employer has since highlighted to me the Flexible Working on offer, which allows a great deal of freedom in arrival times and depature times, as long as the quality of my work does not suffer.
This has led to a substantial reduction in the stress of working and trying to be home for my family, greatly improving quality of life, and as a positive effect, the quality of my work as well.
Edward Crutchington, Stevenage, UK
This government is always willing to change the law and the benefits system to help the family with children, generally at the detriment of those who choose not to have children.
Flexible working would be great for the people who have children. They can then pick the best hours and leave the antisocial hours to everybody else (the taxpayer funding their children in the first place). Wonderfully fair.
Richard Carr, UK
My company already has flexible start and finish times for all office based employees. But the downside to this is that you have to work your required hours each day. I'm fairly lucky in that I do not have to pick up my child from daycare, his dad does that. But the flexible start time is good so that if I have to take him to the nursery, then I can without arriving in the office late.
On one or two occasions when I've had to leave unexpectedly to pick up my sick child, my boss has been more than happy for me to put family first. With modern technology, I could even work from home in an emergency and have done so once. My partner is also lucky in that he can take time off to look after our son.
The rule would work if the employer was more simpathetic to employee's with family. My wife is a teacher and is having an ongoing battle with her school and education authority in Luton to go from full time to part time. They will not take into account their employee's home life and can't see how damaging not spending time with a year old child can be to her future development.
Phil, Luton, Beds
When I asked for parental leave for the birth of my son last year I was told the Chairman won't like it. I was also pressurised by comments by two directors that when their children were born they only took the day of birth off work. I explained our situation - we are immigrants to this country with no family support network availble in this country. This didn't seem to bring any sympathy. After my return to work I was put under unreasonable pressures to deliver a string of information and reports which were not urgent or really required at that point in time.
Alex, London, UK
Whilst not being an anti-family person I and other single, working colleagues feel that there is too much focus on family-based allowances. I have been working full time for 43 yeards with no career break why cant I have felxible working hours, time off for school concerts, parents days etc
Margaret Bennett, Chester
As an owner/manager of an SME I am once again dismayed at the way Patricia Hewitt is jumping on another anti-business band wagon. What she fails to appreciate is the devastating effect this new legislation has on small business.We only have one person in each key department with no cover. If we agree to adopt flexible working it means that the company is unable to operate during that persons absence. It is o.k. if you are Shell of BT who have got battalions of people in each department but totally impractical for the many small businesses to agree to this ruling.
Peter E., Coventry