The long-awaited Employment Bill is no closer to being put before Parliament, after there was no mention of it in the Queen’s Speech. However, in a separate announcement, the UK government has said that it will extend the existing ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts. In future, the ban will apply to all contracts where an individual has guaranteed earnings equal to or less than the lower earnings limit for National Insurance purposes, currently £123 per week.
Employment Bill delayed again
The Queen’s Speech in 2019 included a commitment to introduce an Employment Bill that would extend workers’ rights, particularly family-friendly entitlements. The Bill was expected to:
- Increase protection against redundancy for pregnant employees and parents returning to work after maternity, adoption or shared parental leave;
- Introduce new rights to neonatal and carer’s leave and a right to request a more predictable contract for individuals without guaranteed hours of work; and
- Make flexible working the default.
Since the Employment Bill was originally announced, the government has also indicated that it will put further measures in place to combat sexual harassment, including a new duty on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
The Employment Bill was not in fact introduced as intended in the 2019-2021 parliamentary session and the proposals have now been delayed again. There was no mention of an Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech on 10 May 2022.
But new announcement on exclusivity clauses
However, the government has responded to its December 2020 consultation on exclusivity clauses. The response to consultation confirms that the government will extend the existing ban on exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts to all contracts where a worker has a guaranteed weekly income at or below the lower earnings limit for National Insurance purposes.
This means that clauses in employment contracts that prevent a worker from working for someone else or doing so without the employer’s consent will be unenforceable, unless the worker is entitled to pay of more than £123 per week (on current rates). Dismissing an employee or subjecting a worker to a detriment for breaching an unenforceable exclusivity clause is automatically unfair/ unlawful.
The government has said it will introduce the new protection later this year. However, the proposal looks like small beer in comparison with the existing commitments that are still on hold.