According to new research, almost half (42 per cent) of low-paid parents feel as if they have been “penalised” by their employer as a direct result of putting in requests for flexible working hours.

Low-paid workers who put in such requests say that they will often be allocated undesirable shift times, or offered fewer hours than they need to make ends meet, a study from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) suggests. Some workers even believe that they have lost their jobs as a result of such requests.

The group surveyed as many as 1,000 British parents aged between 20 and 35, who had a household income of £28,000 or less and looked after at least one child aged between one and 16.

Approximately half of respondents told TUC that they found it difficult to juggle their work and childcare commitments – while the study also found that a similar number were not aware of their legal rights in relation to general employment law, while 63 per cent did not fully understand their rights in terms of parental leave arrangements.

Under English law, every employee has a statutory right to request flexible working after 26 weeks of employment.

Employees can only make one request in any 12 month period, but an employer must have a sound and legitimate reason in order to lawfully refuse their request.

Despite this, 29 per cent of TUC survey respondents said that, at least once in the past year, they had used their annual leave entitlement in order to look after an unwell child.

Meanwhile, 42 per cent of those who were aware of their rights and did ask for flexible working hours said that they had been unfairly “penalised” as a result.