Every employee in the country is to be given the right to ask for flexible working hours as the Government tries to get more unemployed women into work.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, believes that enabling relatives and friends of working parents to alter their working patterns will boost the economy.
The Government estimates around a million women are effectively locked out of employment because of problems balancing work and childcare.
The plans to allow anyone to ask for flexible hours are an extension of the rights introduced in 2009 for parents of children aged 16 and under.
A study last year of eligible parents showed 28% of women and 17% of men had asked to change their work patterns in the previous two years, with 80 to 90% of requests accepted.
At Odyssey Systems on Teesside, a telecommunications company with 30 employees, management says it has helped parents to change working hours, but extending the scheme to everyone will be a burden.
Sales director Christine Gilbert said: "We're still here because we think about customers first.
"To say that everybody in the whole company has to have flexible working is just going to be a massive managerial nightmare."
Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce believes the new proposals could cause "unnecessary friction" in the workplace and " unrealistic expectations about the level of flexibility most businesses will be able to accommodate".
But the TUC welcomed the proposals, with General Secretary Brendan Barber describing them as common sense.
He said: "These reforms will make life easier for millions of working parents.
"Businesses will also benefit from a more engaged workforce and a larger pool of people to recruit from."
The entitlement to ask for flexible hours will be introduced in 2014 at the earliest and employers will have to provide good reason for refusing a request.
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