In the past couple of years we have witnessed a sea-change in UK employment law, for example the increase in the qualifying period of continuous employment to claim unfair dismissal to two years, the introduction of fees for the first time in the employment tribunal and the new concept of settlement agreements which have replaced compromise agreements.
As if that wasn’t enough there are further employment law changes in store for the tail end of 2013 and throughout 2014.
Let’s have a closer look at what is in store for the remainder of the year and 2014:-
OCTOBER 2013 - The abolition of the third party harassment provisions of the Equality Act 2010
Currently an employer is vicariously liable in circumstances where they are aware that their employee has been subjected to third-party harassment on at least two previous occasions. (Section 40 Equality Act 2010) The easiest example of this is the scenario where a bartender is subject to harassment by drunken customers in a public house. These provisions were abolished from 1 October 2013. Employers should however be aware that they still have a duty of care to their employees and are still responsible for preventing third-party harassment.
OCTOBER 2013 - The abolition of the Agricultural Minimum Wage
These provisions were abolished from 1 October 2013 where there has for a long time been a separate set of provisions for workers in the agricultural and horticultural sector. From 1 October 2013 the National Minimum Wage and the Working Time Regulations were extended to apply to these sectors.
OCTOBER 2013 - Increases to the National Minimum Wage
The National Minimum Wage was increased from 1 October 2013 as follows:
- The Adult hourly rate will increase to £6.31
- For 18 – 20 year olds the hourly rate will increase to £5.03
- For the under 18 year olds the hourly rate will increase to £3.72
- For apprentices the hourly rate will increase to £2.68
JANUARY 2014 - Changes to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006.
As readers will be aware, the Government issued a consultation on proposed changes to TUPE. The response to the consultation was published recently and the proposed changes are due to come into effect in January 2014. These include the following proposed changes:-
- the proposed repeal of Regulation 3(1)(b) and ‘service provision change’ has been abandoned after the Government listened to Employers who were concerned that any repeal would create great uncertainty and create redundancy liabilities for existing employers and contractors
- the proposed repeal of employee liability information (Regulations 10 and 11) has also been abandoned however employee liability information must be provided with 28 days of the transfer as opposed to the current 14 day requirement.
- allowing TUPE consultations involving more than 20 redundancies to also satisfy the requirements for consultation on collective redundancies where the two can run parallel.
- allowing micro-businesses with ten or less employees to inform and consult directly with employees as opposed to employee representatives.
- Amendments to ‘entailing changes in the workforce’ definition so that TUPE dismissals involving a change in the place of work will now not be automatically unfair.
APRIL 2014 - Index –linked changes to Unfair Dismissal Compensatory Awards
The date for the annual index-linked change to the compensatory award limits for Employment Tribunal claims will move from 1 February to 6 April. Any new changes will therefore come into effect on 6 April 2013.
APRIL 2014 - Early ACAS conciliation comes into effect
It is anticipated that mandatory early ACAS conciliation will come into force in April 2014. This means that all Claimants will need to notify ACAS before a claim can be issued in the Employment Tribunal. ACAS will then attempt conciliation for up to one calendar month which may be extended by two weeks if there is a reasonable chance of achieving a settlement.
SPRING 2014 - Further amendments to the Equality Act 2010
The Government intends to promote greater business freedom and to remove some of the red-tape that it perceives is strangling many employers. Accordingly the Government intends to introduce the following measures.
The first measure proposed by the Government is to amend the Equality Act 2010 by removing the Questionnaire procedure that currently enables a Claimant who has issued a discrimination claim to gather information from the employer which can be used as evidence at the full merits hearing. It is thought that the existing procedure is time consuming and often serves no purpose in proving that there has been any discrimination.
The second measure proposed by the Government is to give powers to Employment Tribunals to order an employer to conduct an equal pay audit in circumstances where it is clear that it has breached the equal pay provision as set out in the Equality Act 2010.
SPRING 2014 - Amendments to Flexible Working
The Government has confirmed that it will be extending the right to request flexible working to all employees who have more than 26 weeks’ continuous employment. It is also anticipated that the current statutory procedure which enables employers to consider requests will be dismantled and will be replaced with a general requirement to deal with such requests in a reasonable manner and within a reasonable time-frame. ACAS will be issuing guidance in due course. These provisions are contained in the Children and Families Bill.
AT SOME POINT DURING 2014 - Flexible Parental Leave
These provisions are designed to enable parents to choose how they will share the care of their child during the first year after the birth. Mothers can still keep their entitlement to 52 weeks maternity leave and 39 weeks statutory maternity pay. The difference however is that after the first two compulsory weeks of maternity leave, mothers can share the remaining 50 weeks’ maternity leave and 37 weeks’ statutory maternity pay with the father as flexible parental leave. The husband, civil partner or partner of a pregnant woman will also have the right to unpaid time off to attend up to two ante-natal appointments. These provisions will also apply to adoptive parents as well. These provision are due to be implemented in 2014 but may not come into effect until 2015.
BY THE END OF 2014 - Auto-enrolment pensions
More and more employers will be affected by the auto-enrolment provisions that came into effect in October 2012. Employers with between 350 and 499 employees will be expected to comply and offer a qualifying pension scheme to their staff by the start of 2014. Employers with 58 or more employees will be affected by the start of 2015.
As can be seen there is no sign of a let up in the changes that are ear-marked for employment law in the UK and so 2014 looks likely to be an interesting year for all HR and employment law practitioners.