The introduction of fixed-term Parliaments at the last change of Government in 2010 has resulted in the last few months of the current Parliament being relatively quiet on the employment legislation front; although the new shared parental leave system coming into force in April marks a significant change to the family leave landscape. With the political parties gearing up for the general election in May, however, we have an indication of how employment law could change over the next few years, depending on which party or Coalition is elected. Family leave reforms A new system of shared parental leave (SPL) is available from April 2015.  The new regime is extremely complex but the key features for employers are:

  • Eligible parents will be able to share up to 50 weeks of SPL and 37 weeks' pay (everything apart from the two weeks' compulsory leave period) if the mother agrees to bring her maternity leave to an end early.  The balance of maternity leave and pay can be converted into SPL.  
  • SPL can be taken in periods of a week (or multiples of a week) at a time, before a child's first birthday.  
  • Employers will not be obliged to agree to the leave pattern proposed by their employees.  The default position where agreement cannot be reached will be for an employee to take their share of the leave in one continuous block.  However, up to three separate periods of leave can be requested by each parent.  
  • 20 days' work will be available to each parent during SPL, with the employer's agreement.  
  • The right to return to the same job will apply to employees returning from any period of leave that includes maternity, paternity, adoption and SPL that totals 26 weeks or less in aggregate, even if the leave is taken in discontinuous blocks.

In addition, entitlement to adoption leave and pay are brought into line with the entitlements of birth parents and unpaid parental leave is extended to parents of children under 18. Other developments we are expecting in 2015 are:

  • Employment status – a Bill banning the use of exclusivity clauses in "zero hours" contracts if there are no guaranteed hours will continue its progress through Parliament.  There may also be anti-avoidance measures.  At the same time, the Government is to carry out a review on the clarification and potential extension of employee status.  In addition, the Court of Appeal is due to hand down judgment in two agency worker cases, dealing with whether they have employment rights against the end user and whether the regulations protecting them apply where workers are placed with an end user on a permanent basis.  
  • Sickness and annual leave – we are still awaiting a Government response to the interaction between annual leave and sickness absence, an issue raised in a 2011 consultation paper!  
  • Boardroom gender balance – a report is due in the Spring on whether a voluntary target of 25% female representation has been achieved.  
  • Collective redundancy consultation – we are expecting a key decision from the European Court of Justice on whether, in order to comply with the European Collective Redundancies Directive, there is an obligation to inform and consult whenever an employer proposes to dismiss 20 or more employees within a 90-day period, irrespective of whether the employees work at the same or different establishments.

General election The three main political parties and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) have started to indicate what reforms they would make to employment law if elected.  Stand-out proposals include:

  • Conservatives: A requirement for a 50% turnout threshold in order for strikes to be lawful and a three-month limit on the duration of mandates for industrial action.  
  • Labour: increase in the national minimum wage; ensuring equal rights for the self-employed; requirement for companies with more than 250 employees to publish the average pay of men and women at each pay grade; providing 25 hours per week of free childcare for working parents; possible abolition of  tribunal fees.  
  • Liberal Democrats: a new Worker's Rights Agency – a "one-stop shop" for enforcing workers' rights.  
  • UKIP: a duty on large employers to offer a fixed-hours contract to anyone who has worked on a zero-hours contract for a year; businesses would legally be able to discriminate in favour of an unemployed British person (under the age of 25) by offering them a job ahead of a better qualified foreign person.