As a result of recent Government announcements, a clearer picture has now emerged of when various employment law reforms will be introduced throughout the rest of 2013. Below is a summary of these in addition to a brief look at some of those reforms which have already taken effect.
The proposed changes to unpaid parental leave took effect on 8 March 2013. As a result of these changes the entitlement to unpaid parental leave has now increased from 13 to 18 weeks.
The Government has also indicated that, from 2015, it intends to increase the age limit on parental leave from the current five years to 18 years, providing each parent with the right to up to 18 weeks' unpaid parental leave for each child under the age of 18.
Reforms to collective redundancy have been implemented. These include reducing the 90 day minimum consultation period to 45 days for collective redundancies involving 100 or more employees. The minimum consultation period for collective redundancies involving between 20 and 99 employees remains at 30 days.
The following increases to statutory benefits also took effect:-
- The standard rates for statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay and statutory adoption pay increased from £135.45 to £136.78. The weekly earnings threshold for these payments rose from £107 to £109.
- Statutory sick pay increased from £85.85 to £86.70, with the weekly earnings threshold rising from £107 to £109.
- Maternity allowance increased from £135.45 to £136.78, with the earnings threshold remaining at £30.
The new rate of statutory sick pay were effective from 6 April 2013 with the rate for the other statutory payments effective from 7 April 2013.
The Government is aiming to implement the Employment Tribunal fees scheme in Summer 2013, which will see claimants pay an initial fee for lodging a claim and an additional fee for taking the claim to a hearing.
The Government now intends to bring in the use of settlement agreements to replace compromise agreements as a means to end the employment relationship at this time. A principal aspect of the reform is that any settlement agreement discussions will not be admissible as evidence in unfair dismissal claims. The aim here is to ensure that both employers and employees can propose and negotiate exit packages on a without prejudice basis.
Compensatory awards for unfair dismissal will be capped at the lower of one year's (gross) pay or £74,200.
Revised employment tribunal rules are expected to be implemented in Summer 2013 to include a paper sift stage in order to strike out weaker cases. These rules aim to formalise existing good practice in case management to ensure fairness and consistency of approach is applied across all of the Employment Tribunals.
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will make changes to the Employment Rights Act 1996 so that workers cannot bring a whistleblowing case relating to a breach of their own contract of employment that is not in the public interest.
Employer liability (under the Equality Act) for acts of harassment by a third party against an employee is due to be removed as are the provisions relating to the discrimination questionnaire procedure.
The Chancellor announced in his last budget that the concept of employee shareholders would be introduced in September 2013. These new types of employment contract will allow employees to obtain shares in their employer's business in return for giving up certain employment rights. The first £50,000 worth of shares (valued at acquisition) will be free from capital gains tax on disposal. However this proposal has suffered a setback as the House of Lords voted to strike out the clause in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill introducing employee shareholder contracts. The House of Commons subsequently voted to reinstate this clause and the matter will now return to the House of Lords. Therefore it is not entirely clear at this stage if the Government will be able to meet the September 2013 deadline.
The Government issued a consultation on possible changes to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE Regulations). This consultation closed on 11 April 2013 and any changes are intended to be implemented from October 2013 albeit the repeal of the Regulations relating to "service provision changes" will, most likely, have a long lead in time.
The National Minimum Wage rates are expected to change on 1 October 2013 as follows:-
- Standard adult rate for workers aged 21 and over: £6.31 (currently £6.19)
- Development rate for workers aged 18-20 inclusive: £5.03 (currently £4.98)
- Young workers rate for 16 and 17 year olds: £3.72 (currently £3.68)
- Apprenticeship rate for apprentices under 19 years of age or those aged 19 and over but in the first year of their apprenticeship: £2.68 (currently £2.65)
Some time in Spring 2014, we can also expect to see the following employment law reforms:-
- the introduction, by the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, of penalties of up to £5,000 for employers who lose Tribunal claims;
- mandatory early ACAS conciliation;
- the Children and Families Bill will alter the Employment Rights Act 1996 to extend the right to request flexible working to all employees with 26 weeks of service; and
- a new approach to sickness absence management.
It is expected that in 2015 shared parental leave and pay will be created by the Children and Families Bill allowing parents to share child care responsibilities in the first year of the babies life.