The Employment Bill was first proposed in December 2019. However, since then it has been repeatedly stalled and for the second year running it has not made it into the Queen's Speech. What changes were due to be in the Bill, and what remains on the legislative agenda?

What changes were expected to be in the Employment Bill?

When the Employment Bill was first announced in the 2019 Queen's Speech it proposed some significant changes to employment law, such as:

  • Making flexible working the default, unless there is a good reason for it not to be. An earlier consultation proposed making the right to request flexible working a 'day one' right by removing the requirement for 26 weeks' service. For more information on the government's drive towards broader flexible working rights read our blog: Flexible working: preparing for the future.
  • Introducing a 'day one' right to up to 5 days' unpaid leave per year for unpaid carers.
  • Extending the period of redundancy protection for pregnant employees (the right to be offered suitable alternative vacancies) from the point an employee notifies their employer of their pregnancy until six months after the end of their maternity leave.
  • Introducing a new entitlement to up to 12 weeks' paid leave for parents with children needing neonatal care.
  • Giving workers without a fixed working pattern a right to request a more predictable work pattern after 26 weeks' service; and new rights to reasonable notice of working hours and compensation for short-notice shift cancellation.
  • Requiring employers to pass on all tips and service charges to workers in full.
  • Creating a single enforcement body for employment rights.

None of these proposals were mentioned in the May 2022 Queen's Speech; the only employment change announced was the introduction of new seafarers' legislation in response to the P&O ferries situation. On the same day the government issued a press release highlighting action it has taken over the last few years to support workers, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme; national minimum wage increases and enforcement measures; the abolition of the Swedish derogation which allowed agency workers to be paid less than permanent staff in some circumstances; and the right to receive a written statement of terms for all workers from day one.

What else is on the legislative agenda?

As well as the changes which were expected to be in the Employment Bill, there is some other employment law reform on the horizon which employers should be aware of, including:

  • Extending the ban on using exclusivity clauses (currently in place for zero hours contracts) to contracts where a worker's guaranteed weekly income is below the lower earnings limit (currently £123). The government published a press release on the extension on 9 May 2022, although there was no mention of it in the Queen's Speech.
  • A new statutory code of practice on dismissal and re-engagement ('fire and rehire') as outlined in our earlier blog: Government announces plans for a statutory code of practice on 'fire and rehire'.
  • A new duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, backed up by a statutory code of practice, and the reintroduction of protection against third-party harassment.
  • Clarification of the employment status tests.
  • Legislation on non-disclosure agreements.
  • Regulation of non-compete clauses.

Will we see the Employment Bill in the future?

With most of the proposed changes outlined above not appearing either in the Queen's Speech or in recent government press releases, alongside reports in the media that some of the proposals have been completely cut (such as those on workers' tips), it seems that an Employment Bill is unlikely any time soon. Whether the proposals have been dropped for good, however, is not yet clear.

On 12 May 2022 the government published a policy paper on a new 'Future of Work Review' which will guide long-term policy. The review will build on existing government commitments, including those on employment status and protection for atypical workers, as well as assess and make recommendations on selected issues. Therefore, we may yet see some of the earlier proposals become law.

Although the future of the Employment Bill is uncertain, the changes proposed by the government remain a good indication of what are viewed as important workplace issues. The government has faced a backlash since the Queen's Speech, signalling that many workers and unions may be unhappy with the pace of change. Employers may choose, therefore, to engage with some of the practices now, which could lead to benefits in terms of recruitment, retention, and reputation.