A number of changes to employment law came into force on 1 October 2015, including increases to the national minimum wage, new rights for turban-wearing Sikhs not to wear safety helmets in most workplaces in Great Britain and further rules in relation to smoking in vehicles.  We consider the key changes.

Increases to the national minimum wage

As of 1 October 2015, the new statutory minimum hourly rates are as follows:

Click here to view table.

It is important to remember that the Government’s new mandatory national living wage, for workers aged 25 and above, is due to come into force in April 2016.  This will initially be set at £7.20 per hour and employers will need to consider the impact that this will have on their wage bills.

The national living wage is not to be confused with the living wage set by the Living Wage Foundation, the campaigning organisation that promotes a voluntary UK living wage (and a higher London living wage), calculated according to the basic cost of living.

Repeal of employment tribunals’ power to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases

On 1 October employment tribunals lost their power when a successful discrimination claim is brought to make a recommendation that the employer takes certain steps to reduce the adverse effects of discrimination to which the proceedings relate in relation to people other than the employee.  This means that the tribunal will cease to have the right to make a formal recommendation that the employer, for example, introduce an equal opportunities policy or equal opportunities training for all staff.  The tribunal will still be able to make such recommendations to the employer in respect of the employee in these circumstances.  This is unlikely to have a significant practical impact on employers, as it appears that this power was not much used by tribunals in any event.

Extension of Sikh exemption from wearing safety helmets

On 1 October the exemption of turban wearing Sikhs from wearing safety helmets was extended from construction sites to almost all workplaces in Great Britain.  This means that they are exempt from the requirement to wear a safety helmet either as a worker or a visitor.  There are some limited exceptions to this provision, mainly in respect of emergency response situations and the armed forces.  

The fact that turban wearing Sikhs should not be required to wear a safety helmet does not exempt the employer from the requirement to make safety helmets and other protective equipment available to them.  Any decision not to wear a safety helmet should be taken by the individual and not by the employer on their behalf.  Employers who require staff to wear protective headgear should review any clothing policies in light of this change.

Ban on smoking in cars

With effect from 1 October the Smoke-free (Private Vehicles) Regulations 2015 make it unlawful to smoke in an enclosed vehicle where a person under the age of 18 is present in the vehicle.

Previously the ban on smoking in vehicles had applied to vehicles used by the public (or a section of the public) or used in work by more than one person (even if those persons used the vehicle at different times, or only intermittently).  However, it did not previously apply to vehicles used in work where they were used primarily for the private purposes of someone who either owned the vehicle or had a right to use it, which was not restricted to a particular journey.  

The new Regulations mean that it is now unlawful for an employee (or anyone else) to smoke in an enclosed vehicle with another person under 18 present, even if the vehicle is a company car provided primarily for their own private use or their own private vehicle.  It will also be an offence for the driver of a vehicle not to stop someone smoking in these circumstances.  The new rules do not apply to e-cigarettes.  In addition the rules do not apply to boats, ships or aircraft, as they have their own rules.
Employers should review company car and no smoking policies to ensure that they comply with the new requirements.

Modern Slavery Act 2015: slavery and human trafficking statements

It is expected that the requirement for large businesses to publish a slavery and human trafficking statement each year, setting out the action they have taken to ensure that their businesses and supply chains are slavery free, will come into force in October.