UK: April changes In Employment Law

Last Updated: 13 April 2015
Article by James Major and Ruth Bonino

The start of the new tax year sees a number of important changes to employment law. We have summarised below the most significant:

  • the long-awaited introduction of Shared Parental Leave and Statutory Shared Parental Pay,
  • changes to Adoption Leave rules,
  • new rights for surrogate parents,
  • an extension to the age limit of a child in which a parent can take Statutory Parental Leave,
  • statutory requirements for maintaining registers of Trade Union members,
  • changes to employer National Insurance contributions in respect of employees under 21 years old; and
  • new statutory rates for Sick Pay; Maternity/Paternity and Adoption Pay (and minimum weekly pay); and Unfair Dismissal and Redundancy awards.

Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and pay (SSPP)

SPL will allow parents to share the care of their child within the first year of birth or adoption. Although the scheme came into force on 1 December 2014, the new system of SPL will only apply to parents of a child who is expected to be born, or is placed for adoption, on or after 5 April 2015. So if such a child is actually born before that date, the parents could qualify for SPL.  Conversely, parents of a child who is expected before that date but who actually arrives late, on or after 5 April, will not qualify for SPL.  Additional paternity leave will no longer be available unless of course the child is expected to be born before 5 April 2015.

Click here for Clyde & Co's briefing note on shared parental leave and pay for more information.

Click here to see Clyde & Co's survey results on how employers are preparing for the introduction of the regime.

We recommend that employers update their family leave policies to include SPL and SSPP entitlement provisions, SPL eligibility requirements and the mechanics for curtailing maternity or adoption leave and taking SPL.  Employers should also consider whether to offer enhanced SSPP, particularly if maternity pay is already enhanced.

Adoption Leave

From 5 April 2015, adoption leave will be available to employees from the first day of their employment – bringing it into line with maternity leave.

The continuous employment requirements to qualify for statutory adoption pay remain unchanged (26 weeks at the time the employee is notified of being matched with a child for adoption), but the rate of pay will be enhanced to 90% of the employee's normal weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks, bringing it into line with statutory maternity pay.

Employees will also be able to take time off to attend adoption appointments. A primary adopter may take paid time off to attend an adoption appointment on up to five occasions in relation to a particular adoption. A secondary adopter may take unpaid time off to attend an adoption appointment on up to two occasions (this may be enhanced by the employer). Time off equates to a maximum of six and a half hours for each appointment, including travel and waiting time. Once an employee has taken paid time off as the primary adopter, they lose any right to take paternity leave in respect of the same child.

We recommend that employers update their adoption policy to draw a distinction between 'primary' and 'secondary' adopters, revise the eligibility requirements for leave, insert the new rate of pay for the first 6 weeks of Adoption Leave, detail the amount of time off permitted for attending adoption appointments, detail any enhancements offered and the procedure for booking time off.

Surrogate parents

Parents receiving a child via a surrogacy arrangement who become the child's legal parent by obtaining a parental order will gain new rights to adoption, paternity and shared parental leave where the child is expected to be born on or after 5 April 2015. Employees who intend to apply for a parental order and expect to become the child's legal parents in a surrogacy situation have the right to unpaid time off work to accompany the birth mother to up to two antenatal appointments.

We recommend that a note is added to the SPL policy to make employees aware of these new rights.

Statutory Parental Leave

An employee who has been continuously employed for a period of not less than a year and has, or expects to have, responsibility for a child, is entitled to be absent from work on statutory parental leave for the purpose of caring for that child. At present, only parents of children aged five and under can take statutory parental leave, which is limited to a maximum of 18 weeks (four weeks per year) for an individual child.

As of 5 April 2015, statutory parental leave will be extended to parents of a child up to 18 years old.

This change gives parents with children aged between 5 and 18 a new right of up to 4 weeks' unpaid leave per year per child, until such time as their child reaches 18 or, if earlier, when they have exhausted their full entitlement of 18 weeks per child. However, the leave is unpaid, and there are provisions in the legislation regarding the right to postpone the leave, for example where the employer's business would be unduly disrupted.

We recommend that employers check that there is a statutory Parental Leave policy in place which clearly sets out the procedure for booking leave, as well as making clear the employer's right to postpone the leave.

Statutory Rates

The following rates will increase from 6 April 2015:

a) statutory sick pay to GBP 88.45 (increased from GBP 87.55);
b) maternity/paternity and adoption pay to GBP 139.58 (increased from GBP 138.18), and
c) the limit on a week's pay to GBP 475 (increased from GBP 464).

The increase to a week's pay means that the maximum basic award for unfair dismissal and the maximum statutory redundancy payment is now GBP 14,250 (increased from GBP 13,920). The maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal claims has also increased to GBP 78,335 (increased from GBP 76,574).

Trade Union Registers

At present, trade unions must keep a register of their members' names and addresses and ensure that the register is kept accurate and up-to-date. However, there is currently no statutory duty to enforce this obligation and any complaints of failure can only be made by a union member.

From 6 April 2015, a new statutory obligation will require unions to provide an annual declaration of compliance by way of a Membership Audit Certificate (MAC). In addition, unions with more than 10,000 members must appoint an independent "assurer" to complete the MAC. The MAC will be submitted at the same time as the union's annual return (referred to as AR21) for the first full reporting year following 6 April 2015 and each year thereafter.

Class 1 employer Secondary National Insurance contributions

These contributions will be abolished from 6 April 2015 for employees under the age of 21 who earn less than the Upper Earnings Limit – GBP 815 per week. This will also extend to apprentices under the age of 25 in April 2016.

Don't forget ...

Antenatal Appointments: employers may already be aware that as of 1 October 2014, an employee or agency worker who has a "qualifying relationship" with a pregnant woman or her expected child may take unpaid leave during their working hours to accompany the woman to antenatal appointments. We recommend that employers should update their policies dealing with antenatal appointments to detail the meaning of "qualifying relationship", the amount of time off allowed to attend appointments with the mother, and the mechanics for booking such time off.

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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