There are a number of changes to employment law which come into effect next Tuesday, 6 April 2010. This update focuses on three of the most important changes.

  • Entitlement to additional paternity leave

Following a lengthy period of consultation, the Additional Paternity Leave and Pay scheme will come into force on 6 April 2010 and will apply to parents of children due on or after 3 April 2011, or to adoptive parents who are notified of having been matched with a child on or after that date.

The introduction of additional paternity leave and pay will provide eligible employees (usually fathers) with the right to up to 26 weeks' leave to care for a child, if the child's mother or (in the case of adoptions) the primary adopter returns to work without exercising their full entitlement to maternity or adoption leave. Some of that leave may be paid if it is taken during the mother's maternity pay period or, for adopted children, during the primary adopter's adoption pay period. It must be taken no earlier than 20 weeks after the child's birth (or placement for adoption) and before the child's first birthday (or first anniversary of placement for adoption). Special provisions apply where the mother or primary adopter dies within 12 months of the child's birth or placement for adoption.

  • The introduction of fit notes

The Regulations which introduce the new "fit note" come into force on 6 April 2010. From that date, if an employee is unable to work due to sickness, they will need to obtain a "statement of fitness for work" or "fit note" from their GP rather than the current sickness certificate.

Under the new fit note system the current options available to a GP of stating whether a patient is fit or unfit for work will be replaced by two different options of "unfit for work" or "you may be fit for work taking account of the following advice" in which case the GP completes the fit note by recommending that an employer make one of four listed changes (such as altered hours or amended duties) to the employee's working environment which would enable him to return to work. Alternatively, the GP may make his own additional recommendations.

  • Introduction of the right to request time off for training

A new right for employees to request time off work to undertake study or training will apply to businesses with 250 or more employees from 6 April 2010 and will be extended to all employers, regardless of size, from 6 April 2011. The right was introduced by section 40 of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 which inserts new sections 63D to 63K into the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA).

Details of eligibility and procedural requirements are contained in two sets of supplementary regulations.The procedure for a "time off to train" application closely mirrors the existing flexible working application procedure.

Only employees with at least 26 weeks' continuous service will be entitled to make a request for time off. The training must be for the purpose of improving their effectiveness at work and the performance of their employer's business, although it need not lead to a formal qualification.

The right will not apply to agency workers, school-age children, or young employees who qualify for the separate right to time off for training set out in section 63A ERA.