UK legislation update: Government supports various Private Members’ Bills; national minimum wage increase from April 2023

The Government recently announced its support in second readings of a number of Private Members’ Bills proposing reforms originally slated for the elusive Employment Bill.  Most provide for the detail of the changes to be made by regulation and are therefore light on detail, but they do increase the likelihood of proposals actually coming into force in the next year or two.  The Bills now confirmed to have Government support include:

  • Carer’s Leave Bill: a ‘day one’ right for those with certain caring responsibilities to unpaid leave of one week per year, which can be taken in half or individual days and will not require evidence of entitlement. The expectation is that regulations would be laid and commenced in 2024.  See the press release here.
  • Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill: improvements to the right to request flexible working to allow two requests (rather than one) per 12 months, require employers to consult before refusing a request and to make decisions within two rather than three months, and remove the requirement that the employee must explain in the statutory request what effect the change would have on the employer and how that might be dealt with. The Bill does not include an amendment to make this a ‘day one’ right on the understanding that this would be done by secondary legislation;  the Government supports the Bill but has not yet clearly committed to remove the current 26 week service requirement.
  • Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill: before making an employee on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave redundant, an employer must offer them a suitable alternative vacancy, if available, with the employer or an associated employer.  The Bill will extend this redundancy protection to cover periods during or after pregnancy (including after early miscarriage) or after maternity, adoption or shared parental leave;  regulations will specify the period of protection but the Government press release here suggests the period will be up to 18 months after the birth.
  • Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill: the introduction of employer liability for harassment of employees by third parties, and a new proactive duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace (with a potential 25% uplift to tribunal awards for breach). The Bill envisages it will come into force one year after it receives Royal Assent.

The Government previously announced its support for Private Members’ Bills on :

  • Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill: a ‘day one’ right to a minimum of one week’s leave for employed parents of a child requiring neonatal care, and statutory pay for those with 26 weeks’ service, expected to come into force 18 months after the Bill receives Royal Assent.
  • Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill.

Some of the other Private Members’ Bills currently awaiting a second reading also replicate earlier Government employment law reform proposals (and may therefore also receive Government support at second reading), for example Bills introducing limitations on the use of non-disclosure agreements, and a right to request more predictable and stable employment terms.  Other Private Members Bills still at an early stage include proposed rights relating to fertility treatment and miscarriage leave as well as minor changes to paternity leave. HR practitioners may need to plan for a substantial update to staff handbook policies in the not too distant future….

Autumn Statement

The Autumn Statement included confirmation of increases to the national minimum wage rates from April 2023.  The rate will be £10.42 an hour (up from £9.50) for workers aged 23 or over, £10.18 an hour for those aged 21-22 and £7.49 an hour for 18 to 20-year-olds; the apprentice rate will be £5.28 an hour.

Like other allowances and limits, the employer NICs threshold will be frozen until April 2028.

The HSF Tax Group has produced a full briefing on the Autumn Statement, here.

 

UK: April 2021 changes to statutory benefits, tribunal compensation, minimum wage

From 6 April 2021, the cap on the unfair dismissal compensatory award increases from £88,519 to £89,493 and the cap on weekly pay (used to calculate the unfair dismissal basic award and statutory redundancy pay) increases from £538 to £544. This gives a maximum unfair dismissal award of £105,813. Note that since 29 July 2013 there has been an additional cap on the compensatory award of 12 months’ pay.

The bands for injury to feelings awards have also been increased for claims presented on or after 6 April 2021;  the lowest band starts at £900, the middle band at £9,100, and the highest band starts at £27,400 with a cap of £45,600 (save in exceptional cases).

From 4 April 2021 the weekly rate of statutory sick pay increases to £96.35 per week (from £95.85) and the weekly flat rate of statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental pay increases to £151.97 per week (from £151.20).

The national minimum wage rates increases from 1 April 2021. Workers of 23 years and older will be entitled to be paid a minimum national living wage of £8.91 per hour (increased from £8.72).  The hourly rate for those aged 21 to 22 increases to £8.36 (from £8.20).

 

Anna Henderson
Anna Henderson
Professional Support Consultant, Employment, London
+44 20 7466 2819

UK: new family-friendly rights proposed

In July 2019 the Government published its response to a consultation on extending redundancy protections to those on family leave, but without specifying any particular timetable for doing so.

Currently women on maternity leave are given priority over any suitable alternative vacancies should their role be made redundant. An employer’s failure to offer any such available vacancies renders the consequent redundancy dismissal automatically unfair. The Government has committed to extend this right of priority over vacancies to apply from the point at which the employee notifies the employer – whether orally or in writing – that she is pregnant, until six months after the end of maternity leave (even if the mother does not immediately return to work due to taking another form of leave at that point).

Similar protection will be available for those taking adoption leave. The Government intends also to provide protection for those taking shared parental leave, proportionate to the amount of leave taken and the threat of discrimination, but has yet to determine exactly how this will work. No additional protection will apply to paternity leave.

The Government will also establish a taskforce of employer and family representative groups to make recommendations on improvements to the information available to employers and families on pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and to develop an action plan to facilitate pregnant women and new mothers staying in work.

….

The Government also published Good Work Plan: Proposals to support families setting out three new consultations on:

  • a new right to neonatal care leave from ‘day one’ of employment, with flat rate statutory pay conditional on 26 weeks’ service at the 15th week before the baby is due. Where a newborn is in hospital for neonatal care for at least 2 continuous weeks, the number of weeks, capped at a limit to be specified (suggested options are 2, 3, 6, or 12 weeks), would be added on to the end of maternity or paternity leave. Consultation ends on 11 October 2019.
  • whether larger employers (with 250 or more employees) should be required to publish their policies on flexible work and family related leave and pay on their websites, possibly with key information to be included on the government’s gender pay gap reporting portal; the consultation also asks whether and how (all) employers should be required to set out their approach to flexible working in job adverts. Consultation ends on 11th October 2019.
  • the case for a potentially radical reform of family leave and pay, including possible changes to paternity, shared parental and maternity leave and pay and their possible replacement with a single ‘family’ set of entitlements, with the aim of encouraging greater sharing between mothers and fathers of leave and childcare responsibilities. The consultation closes on 29th November 2019. The Government is currently evaluating the shared parental leave regime and expects to report on this later in 2019.

….

The Government Equality Office has published Gender equality at every stage: a roadmap for change, which mentions some of the initiatives above but also confirms plans to consult on a new right to carers’ leave, review the enforcement of equal pay legislation (including consideration of when mandatory equal pay audits could be appropriate), and assess the effectiveness of gender pay gap reporting with consultation on any changes by 2021. The roadmap also mentions the possibility of requiring employers to publish retention rates for employees returning from parental leave.

Anna Henderson
Anna Henderson
Professional Support Consultant, London
+44 20 7466 2819

UK: Maternity redundancy protection proposals and health and safety guidance

  • The Women and Equalities Select Committee has published its response to the government’s consultation on extending redundancy protection for women and new parents, supporting the proposed extension to cover the period from notification of pregnancy to six months after return from maternity leave, and agreeing its extension to other types of longer parental leave. It also recommended that large companies should be required to report on retention rates for women 12 months after returning from maternity leave and 12 months after lodging an application for flexible working, and that consultation on extending the time limit for pregnancy/maternity discrimination claims from 3 to 6 months be carried out swiftly.
  • Maria Miller MP, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, subsequently introduced a 10-minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons, said to have cross-party support, which goes further than the government proposals. The Bill would prohibit employers from making employees redundant during pregnancy, maternity leave and for six months after the end of maternity leave, except where the employer ceases to carry on business where the pregnant woman or new mother is employed.
  • The TUC and Maternity Action have published new guidance for health and safety reps on “Pregnancy, breastfeeding and health and safety“. This emphasises the need for risk assessment prior to pregnancy notification, whenever the employer employs women of childbearing age; this general assessment should then be revisited on notification of pregnancy to review specific risks regularly as the pregnancy progresses. The guidance urges reps to challenge employers who claim that there are risks that cannot be removed once they are told that a woman is pregnant and instead say they have to move or suspend the worker, stating that there are very few hazards which cannot be controlled to ensure that all pregnant women are safe, not just those who have notified their employer.
Anna Henderson
Anna Henderson
Professional Support Consultant, London
+44 20 7466 2819

UK: communicating with employees on maternity leave

Employers should ensure they agree in advance how and how often they will communicate with an employee while on maternity leave (or indeed other periods of longer family-related leave), particularly if the employee will be at risk of redundancy during that period. In South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust v Jackson, the EAT ruled that sending an email about redeployment opportunities to the employee’s work email address which she was unable to access, meaning she only became aware several days later, was unfavourable treatment on grounds of maternity leave for which she was awarded £5,000 compensation. It might also be discrimination on grounds of maternity, but that would depend on the reason for using the work email address and would not be so if the reason was simply administrative error.

Anna Henderson
Anna Henderson
Professional Support Consultant, London
+44 20 7466 2819

UK: proposals to extend redundancy protection for employees who are pregnant or returning from maternity leave

The Government has published a consultation until 5 April 2019 on proposals to extend the current period of protection for women on maternity leave during which they are given priority over any suitable alternative vacancies should their role be made redundant. (An employer’s failure to offer any such available vacancies renders the consequent redundancy dismissal automatically unfair.)

The main proposal is to extend this right of priority over vacancies to apply from the point at which the employee notifies her employer of her pregnancy in writing, through to six months after a new mother returns to work. The consultation seeks views on how this should work where an employee takes some other form of leave immediately after her maternity leave (such as annual leave or a career break) and also whether the protection should be extended to those returning from adoption leave, shared parental leave and longer periods of parental leave.

Hong Kong: Proposed changes to discrimination laws

On 30 November 2018, legislation was gazetted which proposes various amendments to the Sex Discrimination Ordinance, Disability Discrimination Ordinance, Family Status Discrimination Ordinance and the Race Discrimination Ordinance. The proposed amendments reflect eight of the recommendations from the Equal Opportunities Commission Report on the Discrimination Law Review. Key changes include extending protections against discrimination on the ground of breastfeeding and extending protections against disability and racial harassment by customers.

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UK: Diversity Developments – presentation of pay gap data, proposals on parental leave and dress code guidance

  • The Government Equalities Office has published the findings of a commissioned study (here) concluding that the clearest and most accessible way of presenting gender pay gap figures is to display them visually as coins or as the amount which women earn for every £1 men earn (rather than percentages). The latter approach has now been added to the data on the government’s pay gap website, which also now includes bar charts to show the gender split by pay quartile and displays an employer’s data all on one page. The study also found that benchmarking improved comprehension, so may lead to pressure on the government to add visual benchmarking to the published data in future.

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