Welcome to our April 2014 Employment Update. Our employment specialists have outlined the key employment updates to be aware of this month.

  1. Government to introduce a new Health and Work Service 

Introduced later this year, this Service will be aimed at aiding employees who have been absent due to sickness for a period of 4 weeks or more. In addition, the Service aims to help employers manage their sickness absence among their employees. 

Once an individual has been off sick for a period of 4 weeks, or is expected to be absent for 4 weeks, then their GP will be able to refer employees to the new Service for an assessment. An Employer will also be able refer its employees. 

The Service will provide a work-focused occupational health assessment which will identify the issues preventing the employee from returning to work. It will produce a plan for the employee, the GP and the employer and make recommendations as to how the employee can return to work more quickly, for example timetable a return to work. 

Advice will also be available by internet and by telephone. Further information can be foundhere.

  1. Class 1 National Insurance Contributions Reductions 

An Employment Allowance is expected to be introduced on 6 April 2014. Eligible employers will be able to reduce their class 1 NICs by up to £2,000 each tax year. Guidance has been published by HM Revenue and Customs which deals with eligibility and claiming the allowance. Further information can be found here

  1. ACAS Early Conciliation to be launched on 6 April 2014, mandatory from 6 May 2014

An individual wishing to bring an employment claim will, in the majority of cases, from 6 May 2014 have to notify ACAS beforehand. They will then be offered free Early Conciliation which will involve ACAS attempting to settle the dispute without the need for a claim to be pursued. 

Engagement in the conciliation will not be mandatory and if either party refuses, or is unsuccessful, then the individual will be able to bring a claim in the tribunal. However, if both parties agree to enter into conciliation then they will have a period of 1 month in order to resolve the dispute. Crucially, it will stop the clock on the limitation period for pursuing a claim. Further information can be found here

  1. Protected Disclosure – emails are capable 

It was held by the Employment Appeals Tribunal in Norbrook Lavatories (GB) Ltd v Shaw that emails taken together can amount to a protected disclosure. The emails in question raised concerns about the dangers of driving in snowy conditions and contained information about dangers to the health and safety of individuals. Although on their own each email was not a qualifying disclosure, taken together they satisfied the test. 

This case highlights the importance of seeking advice as to whether or not a protected disclosure has been made. This is especially important if an employee is shortly to be dismissed or is being subjected to a detriment. 

  1. An illegal worker has the right to bring a discrimination claim

The Employment Appeals Tribunal in Wijesundera v Heathrow 3PL Logistics Limited and Another have allowed an illegal worker to bring a claim for sexual harassment. In this case, the EAT noted that the detriment complained of did not entirely depend on an employment contract being in existence and so a claim could continue. The issue of an individual illegally working is not a defence to sexual harassment. 

  1. Better rights and working conditions for Non-EU Seasonal Workers

Legislation has been passed by the European Parliament to regulate the employment of non-EU seasonable workers. Each member state has 2 and a half years to implement these new rules. Employers who breach the rules will face penalties and will have to pay compensation to the worker affected. 

In summary, the new rules are:

  1. Fixing maximum length of stay for non-EU seasonal workers to a period between 5-9 months over a 12 month period.
  2. An application to enter the EU as a seasonal worker will include a work contract or binding job offer (such offer must include certain information).
  3. They are to have the same rights as EU nationals in relation to pay, dismissal, working hours, holidays etc. 
  4. Simplify and speed up procedures allowing the workers to return to the EU for temporary work.
  1. Breastfeeding in the workplace 

ACAS has published guidance to assist employers in dealing with requests from employees to breastfeed in the workplace. The guidance can be found here http://bit.ly/1nBeLaG.