Lucy Lewis Hazel Oliver May 18 2022 Queen's speech 2022 – is the Employment Bill dead or delayed? Lewis Silkin LLP | Employment & Immigration - United Kingdom Lucy Lewis, Hazel Oliver Employment & Immigration IntroductionWhat was the Employment Bill expected to cover?What about other expected reforms?Were any other new employment laws announced?CommentIntroductionThe 2022 Queen's speech was widely expected to be the moment when the government finally announced its intention to implement a number of significant employment law reforms, including the long-anticipated Employment Bill. However, there was no mention of the Bill and only two provisions that touched on employment rights. Does this signal the demise of all these changes, or are they simply delayed?The 2019 Queen's speech announced that the government was planning a new employment bill. The next Queen's speech in May 2021 did not mention the bill at all, but the government later confirmed it would be introduced when parliamentary time allowed. Fast-forward to May 2022, and none of these employment law changes have been included in the 38 bills set out in the latest speech.What was the Employment Bill expected to cover?The Employment Bill was due to cover the following reforms, which have all been under discussion since at least December 2019:making flexible working the default – the government had already backtracked on this somewhat by proposing a more modest new right to request flexible working from day one, and consultation on this proposal closed in December 2021. This forms the backdrop to discussions about "new normal" working arrangements, so it would be surprising if there was no response to the consultation this year despite its omission from the Queen's speech;extending redundancy protection for pregnancy and maternity – the government has promised to extent priority for alternative employment opportunities on redundancy to all pregnant employees and for up to six months after return from maternity leave, with similar protections for parents returning from adoption or shared parental leave;leave for neonatal care – the government has promised a new right to 12 weeks' paid neonatal leave for parents whose babies spend time in neonatal care units. Consultation on this proposal closed on 11 October 2019, and the government's response to the consultation said they will go ahead with legislation, although this is not expected until 2023;leave for unpaid carers – the government has proposed that working carers will be able to take up to 5 days' carers leave each year to help them carry out their caring responsibilities, although this will be unpaid. The government published some detail on how this new right will operate in September 2021, but there has been no further progress since then (for further details please see "Carers entitled to one week of unpaid leave");tips to go to workers in full – the government's proposed regulations governing how tips are to be distributed would require employers to pass on all tips and service charges to workers and ensure that tips are distributed on a fair and transparent basis, to be supported by a statutory code of practice (for further details please see "Tips to be paid to staff in full under latest plans for legislation");the right to request a more predictable contract – based on the Good Work Plan, the government had been expected to introduce a new right for workers with variable hours to request a more stable and predictable contract after 26 weeks' service and, possibly, new rights to reasonable notice of working hours and compensation for short-notice shift cancellation. It is worth noting that the EU transparent and predictable working conditions directive will introduce similar rights on an EU-wide basis in August 2022; anda single enforcement body – the Good Work Plan proposed a single labour market enforcement agency, with the intention to combine existing bodies, and expand this new body's remit into the enforcement of statutory sick pay, holiday pay for vulnerable workers and the regulation of umbrella companies.What about other expected reforms?As well as the changes announced in 2019, there are a number of other employment law reforms that could have been either included in the Employment Bill or brought forward as separate legislation. They include:sexual harassment – the government has promised to introduce a new proactive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and to bring back laws making employers responsible if employees are harassed by customers or other third parties (for further information please see "New duties to prevent sexual harassment on the way"). This was not mentioned in the speech;non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) – legislation has also been promised on non-disclosure agreements since 2019, driven by concern about use of NDAs to silence victims of harassment. Again, this was not mentioned in the speech;proposals for regulating non-compete clauses following the government's 2020 consultation on this issue; anda ban on "exclusivity clauses" in contracts for low-paid workers – on 9 May 2022, the government unexpectedly published a press release on widening the ban on exclusivity clauses for low-paid workers, which would apply to those whose guaranteed income is at or below the lower earnings limit of £123 per week. The government says that this will allow approximately 1.5 million workers to boost their income by working for multiple employers, and legislation will be laid before parliament "later this year"; although, there was also no mention of this in the Queen's speech.Were any other new employment laws announced?The Harbours (Seafarers' Remuneration) Bill will empower ports to surcharge or refuse access to ferry services that do not pay an equivalent to the national minimum wage to seafarers while in UK waters. This is a specific response to the P&O ferries controversy. Although an important issue, this will not affect the majority of UK employees.The Modern Slavery Bill will strengthen the requirements on companies with an annual turnover of over £36 million to publish an annual statement on the steps they are taking to prevent modern slavery. This is an expected expansion of the existing requirements, which will require reporting on specific areas on a government-run registry and introduce financial penalties for breaches.CommentVarious organisations have expressed dismay at the further delay to employment law reforms, particularly new laws aimed at protecting women and low paid vulnerable workers. For example, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation have sent a joint letter to the labour markets minister urging the government to include the Employment Bill in the Queen's speech. The TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady has now said it appears that the prime minister has "turned his back on working people" and "bad bosses up and down the country will be celebrating".It is perhaps unsurprising to see that the Employment Bill was omitted from the Queen's speech given its track record of dropping off the legislative agenda. What is more surprising is the government's choice not to progress something that has broad cross-party support, especially with regard to protecting those who are often the first to feel the impact of economic uncertainty, such as pregnant women and carers. There will certainly be an ongoing expectation that these issues need to be addressed sooner rather than later.Reports of the death of the Employment Bill may be exaggerated. The next general election is currently set for May 2024. Therefore, while the circumstances may change, the current government could potentially implement the bill next year. Nevertheless, it seems that nothing more will happen this year. The government has a lot to do, or a lot that it has promised to do, for employment law. For now, however, employers and employees are still playing a waiting game.For further information on this topic please contact Lucy Lewis or Hazel Oliver at Lewis Silkin by telephone (+44 20 7074 8000) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Lewis Silkin website can be accessed at www.lewissilkin.com.