The government has been busy over the last couple of months. They’ve launched consultations on statutory sick pay (SSP), beefing up employment rights for casual and zero hours staff, introducing a new single enforcement body for employment rights and are looking at whether we need new legislation to protect people from sexual harassment at work. As well as all of this, MPs have debated whether the protections available for whistle-blowers are working (particularly in the public sector), and the government has announced that it will make legal changes to encourage more employers to recruit ex-offenders.

Government consults on new sick pay scheme that could benefit two million low-paid workers

The government has launched a public consultation on a range of measures to reduce ill health-related job losses.

Proposals include:

  1. Introducing a new right to request workplace modifications for all employees suffering from health conditions – not just those who are deemed to be disabled, where the duty to make reasonable adjustments applies
  2. Introducing a sick pay rebate for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to help them support individuals with disabilities or long-term conditions return to work
  3. Pro-rating SSP to ensure that employees can agree a phased return to work without being financially worse off
  4. Extending SSP to low earners (currently, it's only paid to those who earn more than £118 per week, which excludes around two million workers). To avoid low earners receiving SSP at a higher rate than their actual wages, it will be set at 80% of their average weekly earnings
  5. Strengthening statutory guidance to support employers to take 'early, sustained and proportionate steps' to support a sick employee to return to work before the employee can be fairly dismissed on the grounds of ill health
  6. Improving access to occupational health providers by co-funding or introducing vouchers for smaller employers.

The consultation closes on Monday 7 October 2019.

Government consults on plans to change the way individuals enforce their employment rights

Matthew Taylor’s Good Work Plan recommended that HMRC should take responsibility for enforcing the basic pay rights, such as National Minimum Wage (NMW), sick pay and holiday pay, for the lowest paid workers, and make the enforcement process easier for workers.

Currently, there are seven different state agencies tasked with enforcing particular breaches, in addition to the employment tribunal. These range from HMRC, who enforce NMW breaches, to the Health and Safety Executive, who are responsible for health and safety at work. The government believes that having so many organisations makes it difficult for people to know where to go for help. They believe that a single enforcement body should be established to:

  • Promote a single recognisable ‘brand’
  • Pool intelligence and work with the police, immigration officials and DWP, where appropriate
  • Extend state enforcement to enable those who have been underpaid holiday, or use an umbrella company to seek redress
  • Support businesses by providing suitable and targeted materials, and by taking a ‘proportionate approach to enforcement.

 The priority will be on protecting the most vulnerable workers.

The consultation closes on Sunday 6 October 2019.

Government consults about granting new employment rights to casual/zero hours staff

The government has launched a consultation on 'one-sided flexibility' following recommendations made in the Taylor Review and by the Low Pay Commission (LPC).

The LPC has recommended that new laws should be introduced to protect vulnerable staff. These include rights for workers: 

1To be given 'reasonable notice' of their work schedules

The consultation seeks views on how much notice is reasonable, whether it should apply across the board, or if certain employers/sectors, such as the emergency services, need more flexibility.

2To be compensated if their shifts are cancelled or shortened without 'reasonable notice'

The suggestion is that if a worker's hours are cancelled with less than 'x' days’ notice (where 'x' is a time below what is deemed short-notice), the employer would be liable to pay compensation, irrespective of whether the hours are replaced.

The consultation suggests that compensation could be set at one of three levels:

  1. The value of the shift/hours in question 
  2. The worker’s appropriate NMW rate multiplied by the scheduled number of hours cancelled
  3.  A multiple of a worker’s appropriate NMW rate e.g. three times the NMW.

The government also asks whether compensation should only apply to those workers below a certain income level, close to or on the minimum wage, or to those on specific contract types,such as zero-hour contracts.

The consultation ends on Friday 11 October 2019. If you engage casual staff, we strongly recommend that you make your views known. If implemented, these changes may drive up your costs.

MPs urge government to ‘beef up’ protection for whistleblowers

MPs recently debated whistleblowing protection and broadly agreed that it needs to be reformed. The All Party Parliamentary Group on whistleblowing urged the government to adopt elements of the EU Whistleblowing Directive, which will be introduced by 2021 by EU member states. 

The All Party Parliamentary Group has made ten recommendations to ensure gold-standard protection for whistleblowers. The ten point plan recommends that:

  • Protection should be expanded to all members of the public,
  • There should be an urgent review of barriers to justice for access to legal aid and protection against costs
  • An independent Office for the Whistleblower should be established to enforce protections and administer meaningful penalties.
  • Non-disclosure agreements should be banned in whistleblowing cases.

Government proposes criminal record reform to help ex-offenders into work

The Ministry of Justice has recently announced that it intends to amend existing legislation to make it easier for people with a criminal record to obtain employment.

The proposed changes will mean:

  • Individuals with less serious sentences of over four years won’t have to disclose these convictions after the rehabilitation period has ended. However, this change won’t apply to offences that attract the most serious sentences, including life, or for serious sexual, violent and terrorism offences.
  • A reduction in the length of rehabilitation periods for sentences of four years or less and community sentences.

The changes will mean that adults who committed non-violent offences in childhood will no longer be criminalised for life.

Detailed proposals on shortening rehabilitation periods will be set out later this year.

Government consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace

The Government Equalities Office has launched a consultation on how best to tackle workplace sexual harassment.

Significant proposals include:

  • Introducing a duty to prevent harassment in the workplace
  • Re-introducing protection against third-party harassment
  • Extending the three month time limit for bringing discrimination and harassment claims to six months.

Consideration will also be given to extending protection for volunteers and interns, as well as looking at non-legislative solutions to tackle the issue of harassment.

The consultation closes on Wednesday 2 October 2019.

New settled status scheme ‘working well’

The EU Settlement Scheme official statistics show that over 900,000 people have already applied to the Scheme and two thirds have been granted settled status. The remaining third have been granted pre-settled status.

EU citizens need at least five years continuous residence in the UK to apply for settled status. Those with pre-settled status can stay for as long as they need to build up five years of continuous residence before they can apply for settled status.

Government report shows gender pay gaps are narrowing but still favour men

The Government Equalities Office has published a summary of reported data for 2018/19 which indicates that there have been some improvements to the gender pay gap (GPG).

Key findings are: 

  • 99% of organisations required to publish data did so (although 3% missed the deadline)
  • 78% of reported median GPGs favoured men, 14% favoured women and 9% of employers reported a median GPG of exactly 0%.
  • 88% of reported mean GPGs favoured men, 11% favoured women, and 1% of employers reported a mean GPG of exactly 0%. 

In respect of companies who reported in both 2017/18 and 2018/19: 

  • 48% of reported median GPGs narrowed (the GPG is closer to zero than the previous reporting period) and 44% widened.
  • 53% of reported mean GPGs narrowed and 44% widened. 82% of employers reported they had more women than men in their lowest 25% of earners and 17% reported they had more women than men in their highest 25% of earners.

Where are the worse gaps?

In the private sector, over 50% of organisations within construction, finance and insurance and, mining and quarrying had gender pay gaps in the highest 25%. Communications, education, and professional scientific and technical activities were also in this band.

Action plans

The report indicates that only 47-57% of employers have published an action plan to tackle their gender pay gap.

There's a toolkit available to help FTSE 350 companies bridge the gender pay gap which has helpful tips for SMEs too.