30 June 2015

What’s on the horizon – five areas HR professionals should be keeping under review

Now that the dust has settled on this year’s General Election, employers can get a better idea of what changes we can expect to see in employment law in the next couple of years. Whilst, at first glance, it might look like we’re entering a "steady as she goes" period, scratch beneath the surface and there are plenty of important developments to be found. We discuss some of the most interesting below and will keep you posted as more detail emerges. 

1. Rights to take leave

Employees already have the right to take time away from work for a wide variety of reasons. If the following proposals come to fruition, we will be able to add two more to that list.

In their election manifesto, the Conservative party announced that public sector employees, and private sector employees working for organisations with at least 250 employees, would be entitled to take three days paid volunteering leave each year. We are yet to see the details of how the right would work in practice, although concerns have already been expressed about the cost implications of it.

Separately, as if the rules relating to shared parental leave were not complicated enough already, the Government has indicated that it will look into the idea of parents being able to transfer some of their parental leave to working grandparents. As things stand, eligible parents can only allocate shared parental leave between themselves. 

2. Gender pay gap reporting

The Conservative manifesto also stated that gender pay reporting – recording the difference between the average pay of male and female employees – will be made mandatory for organisations with more than 250 employees. The power to require this already exists in the Equality Act 2010 but has yet not been brought into force.  A previous scheme encouraging voluntary reporting has not been entirely successful, with just four employers publishing information pursuant to the scheme.

3. Rights for low paid workers

Exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts (ZHCs) are intended to prevent the individual working for anyone else (despite not having any guarantee of work under the ZHC). These clauses have now been made unlawful in ZHCs and, where they are included in the contract, will be unenforceable against the worker. However, as discussed in a previous blog, the real challenge in this area may be preventing employers from structuring their arrangements so as to avoid being caught by the rules relating to ZHCs. To date, no anti-avoidance measures have been brought into force. 

The Conservatives also have a stated intention to increase the National Minimum Wage to £6.70 by autumn 2015 and £8 an hour by the end of 2020.

4. Employment Tribunal fees

The Government has announced a review of Employment Tribunal fees. Amongst other things, the review will look at whether the introduction of fees has been successful in encouraging parties to resolve their disputes in other ways whilst also maintaining access to justice. The review comes against a backdrop of a forthcoming Court of Appeal hearing in which Unison is challenging the Government’s right to charge claimants fees for bringing Employment Tribunal claims. Recent statistics evidence a continued fall in the number of claims being brought – the number of single claims brought in January-March 2015 is 25% lower than the equivalent period in 2014, which in turn was 59% lower than for the same period in 2013.

5. Referendum on European Union membership

Last, but not least, is the planned referendum on whether the UK should remain part of the European Union. Very large parts of the employment law landscape derive from European directives, including rules relating to discrimination, working time, TUPE, collective consultation and data protection. Whilst a vote to leave the European Union wouldn’t necessarily result in a wholesale removal of those laws from the statute book, it would certainly open the door to some very significant changes to employment law.

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