Several new pieces of legislation are due to come into force on 1 October 2007 which affect a broad range of employee rights. This alert highlights some of the key changes

ANNUAL STATUTORY LEAVE INCREASE

The annual statutory leave entitlement increases by 0.8 weeks, with a further increase of 0.8 weeks from April 2009 (Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2007). For most full-time workers, this means an initial increase from 20 to 24 days, and later to 28 days. Because the increases are being introduced on a sliding scale to deal with varying contractual holiday years, the actual number of days your employees are entitled to may differ. The entitlement can be calculated at www.berr.gov.uk/employment/holidays by clicking on the Business Link interactive calculator.

MINIMUM WAGE INCREASES

The national minimum wage increases to £5.52 per hour (with exceptions of £3.40 for workers under 18 and £4.60 for those aged 18 to 21). Certain workers are excluded, such as work experience students working as part of a higher education course.

COMPANIES ACT 2006

Most of the long awaited new statutory directors’ duties in the Companies Act 2006 come into force, a significant change being the introduction of a duty to promote the success of the company. There are also changes to companies’ relationships with directors generally, including requiring approval for directors’ service contracts of over two years (instead of five), changing the provisions on non-cash assets in substantial property transactions, relaxing prohibitions on directors’ loans and extending approval requirements for payments for loss of office. Finally, directors’ service contracts, now being defined more broadly, must be open to inspection for one year and on request by members.

SEX DISCRIMINATION

The Sex Discrimination Act 1976 (SDA) is changing following the successful judicial review by the Equal Opportunities Commission. The changes will broaden employees’ rights in respect of harassment and pregnancy/maternity.

Harassment under the SDA will now be unwanted conduct “related to the sex of a person” (instead of “on the ground of her sex”), which means that a woman could claim harassment by conduct directed at another woman or a man. An employer could also be liable for knowingly allowing a work environment whereby an employee is subject to repeated harassment by a customer or the public.

Discrimination relating to pregnancy will not involve a comparison with a man or a non-pregnant woman. Instead, discrimination could also be a failure to treat a pregnant woman differently from before. Claims for pay during maternity leave will also change, for example including discretionary bonuses.

NEW COMMISSION FOR EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

A further change in the field of discrimination is the replacement of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission with a single body, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, to promote and advise on equality, non-discrimination and human rights.

STIRRING UP RELIGIOUS HATRED

The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 comes into force on 1 October, making it a criminal offence to stir up hatred on the grounds of religion. A corporate entity could be found guilty as well as an individual if an offence is committed with “the consent or connivance of a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer”.

FLEXIBLE WORKING

New regulations extend the entitlement to request flexible working in relation to adoption (Flexible Working (Eligibility, Complains and Remedies) Regulations 2002). They broaden the definition of an adopter to include those adopting without a UK adoption agency, and allow private foster carers and those in whose favour a residence order is in place (and their spouse or partner) to request flexible working.