The following are what we consider to be the current "hot topics" in employment law.

  • February 2010

The limits on the awards which an Employment Tribunal can make changed in February. The cap on the compensatory award has reduced (for the first time) to £65,300 whilst the statutory cap on a week’s pay remains fixed at £380. The maximum basic award is £11,400.

  • March 2010

On 2 March the Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklists) Regulations 2010 came into force. These prohibit the compiling, use, sale or supply of a “prohibited list” (being a list relating to employees with involvement with Trade Unions, and collated for the purposes of discriminating against them). The Regulations also introduced new rights for workers to prevent them being subjected to detrimental treatment or dismissal by virtue of a reason connected to a prohibited list.

On 18 March the Home Office published changes to the Immigration Rules, which came into effect on 6 and 7 April 2010. The key changes relate to Tiers 1 and 2 of the points-based system, simplification of the process for Tier 1 applicants without a Master's degree, greater flexibility for short-term transfers made by multinational companies and more protection against the use of such transfers to fill long-term vacancies that should go to resident workers.

  • April 2010

Legislative changes which came into effect in April include an increase in the standard rates of statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay and statutory adoption pay to £124.88 per week, or 90% of the person's average weekly earnings if less than £124.88. Statutory Sick Pay remains at £79.15 per week.

“Sicknotes” were replaced by “Fitnotes” on 6 April 2010. The intention behind the scheme is to encourage consideration as to what can be done to assist employees in returning to work, to prompt discussions between employer and employee and to minimise long term sickness absence.

Following consultation on the Public Disclosure Act which closed on 2 October 2009, “whistle blowing” complaints are now passed on to prescribed industry regulators by Employment Tribunals where the claimant has given express consent by ticking the appropriate box on the new-style ET1. This follows the Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2010.

A new right for employees to request time off for study or training was implemented on 6 April 2010. Workers may now request time away from their core work duties to undertake relevant training which is designed to improve business performance and productivity. Initially, the right only applies to employers with 250 or more employees, but will apply to all organisations from April 2011.

  • October 2010

The Equality Bill completed its passage through Parliament on 6 April and it is expected that the majority of its provisions will come into force in October 2010. The Bill will overhaul discrimination law by strengthening and harmonising existing laws and will replace existing legislation and formalise important Court decisions. New codes of practice are expected to be published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on employment and goods services in September 2010. Consultation on draft codes opened in January 2010 and closed on 2 April 2010. Further codes of practice are expected in other areas such as the education sector and public sector next year.

The Government has announced increases in the National Minimum Wage to take effect from 1 October 2010. The standard rate for workers over 21 will rise to £5.93 (currently £5.80), the development rate will rise to £4.92 (currently £4.83) and the young workers rate will rise to £3.64 (currently £3.57). The Government has extended the adult standard rate to 21-year-olds from October 2010 (the qualifying date up until that date is 22).

  • April 2011

On 6 April 2010 new Regulations came into force providing for additional paternity leave and pay to parents of babies born (and adoptive parents notified of a match) on or after 3 April 2011. Eligible employees will have the right to take up to 26 weeks' paternity leave, if the mother (or primary adopter) returns to work early without having exhausted her full maternity leave entitlement. Part of the leave can be paid if taken during the mother's (or primary adopter's) paid leave period.

From 6 April 2011, the right to request time off for study will apply to all employees, regardless of the size of the employing business.

  • October 2011

New rights for agency workers will come into force under the Agency Workers Regulations 2010. This will include providing the right to equal basic working and employment conditions with comparable permanent employees.

  • On To 2012

Under The Pensions Act 2008, from 2012 employers have to automatically enrol eligible workers (between 22 and the State Pension Age) who are not already in a good quality workplace scheme into a dedicated one. This can either be the employer’s own scheme or the new National Employment Savings Trust (NEST). NEST was formerly known as the New Personal Account but has undergone a makeover. To stimulate participation, employees’ 4% contribution will be topped up by a 3% contribution from employers and a 1% tax incentive from the Government. This ensures the target minimum contribution of 8% is met. To help employers and workers adapt to these measures, their contributions will be phased in from 2012 staring at 1% and rising annually in units of 1% until the required levels are met.