On 13 March, the Children and Families Act 2014 received Royal Assent. It introduces a number of changes for working parents including:

  • An extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service (and not just parents and carers) from 30 June 2014. The current statutory procedure for dealing with requests will also be replaced with a new duty on employers to deal with requests in a reasonable manner and within 3 months, unless an extension is agreed. As is currently the case, employers will be able to refuse a request for flexible working based on one of the statutory grounds and a new code of practice and best practice guide will be published by Acas.
  • From 1 October 2014, prospective fathers and partners of a pregnant woman will have the right to unpaid time off work to attend up to two antenatal appointments. The appointments are likely to be for the two main antenatal scans and fathers/ partners should provide reasonable notice of the appointments.
  • A new shared parental leave and pay system will be introduced for children due or adopted on or after 5 April 2015. The government is currently consulting on the shared parental leave and pay regulations and intends to publish further guidance later in the summer. The new system will allow parents and adopters more flexibility in how they care for their child during the first year and they will be able to take the leave together or in alternate blocks, if their employers agree. Employers will need to prepare shared parental leave policies and amend their existing maternity, paternity and adoption policies to take account of the new system. Employers that currently provide enhanced maternity pay and benefits will also need to consider how they propose to structure any enhanced shared parental pay and benefits.
  • Changes to adoption leave and pay entitlements will take effect on 5 April 2015 in order to mirror entitlements available for birth parents.

It ain’t over...

In the case of Jessemey v Rowstock Ltd & another, the Court of Appeal has provided some useful clarification of the law by deciding that the Equality Act 2010 does protect against post-employment victimisation. It held that, although the wording of the Act clearly did not cover post-employment victimisation, it had to be read in the context in which it was produced and it must have been an unintentional drafting error. Employers should therefore be particularly careful in their dealings with ex-employees who have brought discrimination claims because refusing to provide a reference, or providing a bad reference or threatening the ex-employee may give rise to a postemployment victimisation claim.

All about the price tag

Although the judicial review challenge to employment tribunal fees by UNISON failed, mainly because of a lack of evidence of the impact of fees on access to justice, the latest tribunal statistics from the Ministry of Justice for the period October to December 2013 (the first full quarter since the introduction of employment tribunal fees on 29 July 2013) show that the number of employment tribunal claims has plummeted since the introduction of fees. The employment tribunals received 9,801 claims in this quarter, 79% fewer than the same quarter in 2012.

Budget news

The Budget 2014 was, in the Chancellor’s words, “a Budget for the makers, the doers, and the savers” with particular support for the manufacturing sector and investors. Generally, aside from the far-reaching pension reforms, there were no major surprises for employers.

The key changes to employee share schemes and benefits-in-kind had previously been announced or published as part of the work of the Office of Tax Simplification and, in general, will be widely welcomed. Equally tax avoidance measures, looking at employment status and aggressive tax planning, had been well signposted in advance and we are considering the draft legislation in the Finance Bill 2014 with interest.

News in brief

  • Changes to the national minimum wage enforcement regime came into effect on 7 March 2014 and the maximum penalty increased from £5,000 to £20,000.
  • On 10 March 2014, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force and reduced the rehabilitation periods after which a spent conviction is not required to be declared to a prospective employer.
  • The rate of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), Statutory Paternity Pay (SPP) and Statutory Adoption Pay (SAP) increases on 6 April 2014 from £136.78 to £138.18 per week. The rate of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) increases on 6 April 2014 from £86.70 to £87.55 per week.
  • Changes to the immigration rules come into force on 6 April 2014. The changes include enabling a Tier 2 applicant to be granted leave for 5 years at a time (rather than the current 3 years) on payment of a higher fee and changes to the minimum salary thresholds.
  • From 6 April 2014, changes to the whistleblowing legislation make members of the House of Commons (MPs) “prescribed persons” to whom a whistleblower may, under certain circumstances, make a protected disclosure.
  • Some employment tribunal claims (including equal pay and failure to inform and consult under TUPE) are being reclassified and will attract the higher fee (£250 issue fee and £950 hearing fee for a single claimant) from 6 April 2014.