UK: Employment Law Changes To Look Out For In 2015

Last Updated: 2 February 2015
Article by Anisha Nair

With another year full of employment law changes ahead of us, we have rounded up some of the key changes to look out for in 2015.

You may also be interested in Employment Law Changes 2014.

1. FIT FOR WORK SERVICE

  • The Fit for Work service (FFW) has been introduced by the Government to help employers manage sickness absence.
  • Initially, FFW is providing advice through a website and telephone line but it will shortly be extended to provide free referrals for an occupational health assessment for employees who have reached, or whose GP expects them to reach, four weeks of sickness absence.  
  • The assessment will involve producing a Return to Work Plan (the Return Plan) with the employee, which will include advice and recommendations to help the employee return to work more quickly.
  • Employers who do not have an occupational health service in place should consider making use of FFW to help manage sickness absence. Employers should also consider a system to deal with the administration of Return Plans and ensure that relevant individuals have the appropriate training or knowledge to deal with any Return Plans that are received.
  • For more information please see What is the Fit for Work service?

2. SHARED PARENTAL LEAVE

  • A new system for shared parental leave (SPL) will be available for eligible employees whose baby is due (or who is matched for adoption) on or after 5 April 2015. The mother must still take the first 2 weeks of compulsory leave, but the parents can divide the remaining 50 weeks' leave and 37 weeks' statutory pay.
  • Parents will be able to enjoy various associated rights including the right to take 20 shared parental leave in touch days during the SPL period.
  • Parents will have flexibility to take their leave concurrently or consecutively.
  • Employers will need to consider putting in place new policies which set out who is entitled to SPL, and what notifications employees will need to provide. Employers should also note that offering enhanced maternity pay, but not enhanced shared parental pay may be found to be discriminatory.
  • Other changes, including various improvements to the adoption leave and pay regime, will also come into effect from 5 April 2015. 

3. HOLIDAY PAY

  • In May 2014 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held in the case of Lock v British Gas Trading Limited that commission payments must be included in the calculation of holiday pay (please see How do I fix the problems caused by the holiday pay cases? for more information). The case will return to the employment tribunal in February 2015 for the tribunal to decide whether the Working Time Regulations 1998 are capable of being read purposefully to give effect to European Law, or whether new legislation is required. The tribunal will also determine the basis for calculating holiday pay in order to include commission payments.
  • In December 2014 we reported on the case of Bear Scotland Limited v Fulton (see The Bear necessities) which held that workers are entitled to holiday pay which includes normal non-guaranteed overtime which the worker is obliged to perform if required by his employer to do so.
  • Many questions remain following these cases. However, to minimise the impact of these decisions on businesses, the Government has introduced the Deduction from Wages (Limitation) Regulations 2014 which will apply to claims presented on or after 1 July 2015. The Regulations state that the right to paid holiday is not incorporated as a term in employment contracts and, for claims presented on or after 1 July 2015, limit most unlawful deductions claims to a 2 year period before the date that the claim is lodged.
  • As a result of the Regulations, employers may see an influx of grievances and litigation prior to 1 July 2015. Employers should review the risks their organisation faces and consider the best ways to deal with them in the individual circumstances.

4. ZERO-HOURS CONTRACTS

  • The Government has taken steps to introduce specific legislation in relation to zero-hours contracts (ZHCs) in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill 2014-2015. 
  • The Employment Rights Act 1996 will be amended to include a new definition of ZHCs which would also provide that "exclusivity clauses" (which, broadly, prevent the worker from working for another organisation) are unenforceable.
  • The Government will also be given wide-ranging powers to make regulations to protect those on ZHCs and to deal with attempts by employers to avoid the ban on exclusivity terms. It has recently consulted about whether and how it should do this and we are awaiting its response.
  • Employers using ZHCs should carefully consider how the changes will impact their business and ability to use ZHCs going forward, particularly where exclusivity clauses are relied on. Due to the Government's wide ranging powers to make further provisions, trying to take advantage of loopholes by, for example, not giving work to those who have sought external work or offering 1 hour's guaranteed work per week, is unlikely to provide a long-term solution.
  • Employers using ZHCs may also find it helpful to know that that national minimum wage rates are likely to change from 1 October 2015.

5. COLLECTIVE REDUNDANCIES

  • In November 2014 the ECJ considered whether or not the 20-employee threshold for triggering collective redundancy consultation applies to "one establishment" or the whole organisation in the Woolworths case. The Advocate General's opinion is expected on 5 February 2015, but this will not be binding on the ECJ.
  • Until the ECJ makes a finding the safest course of action for employers to take will be to collectively consult once there is a proposal to make 20 or more employees redundant within a 90-day period, regardless of their location.  

6. DISCRIMINATION

  • At the end of last year the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held in Tirkey v Chandok that race discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 is wide enough to cover caste discrimination. The Government also plans to introduce legislation to prohibit caste discrimination, although it is unclear when this will be.
  • The Government has confirmed its intention to remove the tribunal's power to make recommendations for steps an employer should take to reduce the adverse effect of discrimination on persons other than the successful claimant. The Deregulation Bill which will do this is currently going through Parliament.
  • The Court of Appeal will hear the case of Griffiths v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to decide whether an employer's duty to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee should include adjusting "trigger points" in its attendance policy. The EAT held that it does not.

7. EQUAL PAY

  • The EAT is expected to hear the case of Brierley v Asda Stores Ltd. In this case female Asda shop workers are claiming that they should be paid the same as men working in the distribution warehouse on the grounds that the roles are of equal value. This case is significant to private sector employers as it is the first large scale equal pay claim brought in the private sector.   

8. TRIBUNAL FEES

  • On 17 December 2014 the High Court dismissed Unison's second application for judicial review challenging tribunal fees. Unison's challenge was based on 2 grounds; firstly, that the introduction of fees was unlawful under the EU principle of effectiveness, and secondly, that it was indirectly discriminatory, predominantly against women.
  • Notably, employment tribunals received 32,671 fewer single claim cases between October 2013 and September 2014 compared to the previous year, a 64% decrease.
  • Unison has confirmed that it intends to appeal to the Court of Appeal.

9. GENERAL ELECTION

10. PENSIONS

  • From April 2015 certain restrictions will be removed in respect of how those over 55 will be able to access and use benefits from a defined-contribution pension pot.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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