UK: Employment News Round-Up

Last Updated: 11 September 2008
Article by Nicola W. Hughes

Employment law is ever-evolving in its attempt to keep pace with the changes in a more transient and multicultural society, and amidst immense technological advances. Here is a round up of some of the recent developments, some perhaps more welcome than others.

Employing Illegal Workers

New rules under the Immigration Asylum & Nationality Act 2006 came into force on 29 February 2008 and introduced higher sanctions if an employer knowingly employs someone without permission to work in the UK. The liability is now an unlimited fine and a prison sentence of up to two years. Home Office figures indicate that in the first 80 days of the new illegal working regime action was taken against 137 businesses, compared to only 11 successful prosecutions under the old regime in the previous year.

Fingerprint Technology and Monitoring Employees

Budgens stores are piloting a scheme in which fingerprint-based technology is being used to allow employees to clock in and out of work. Ultimately if successful, the pilot could mean the use of fingerprint technology to monitor the movements of employees across the UK.

Corporate Manslaughter

The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 is now in force with the aim of making it easier to pursue successful prosecutions against organisations whose management failures have led to a death. There will be an unlimited fine on an organisation where there has been a gross breach of the duty of care to the deceased.

National Staff Dismissal Registers

A database containing details of employees who have been accused or dismissed for misconduct is to be launched later this year. The database will be available to companies by subscription and is organised by Action Against Business Crime, who act in partnership with the Home Office and the British Retail Consortium. Though this has attracted little media attention there is likely to be considerable protest once launched as it will enable employers to report former employees who are merely "accused" of acts of misconduct such as theft and regardless of whether they were charged, and/or found guilty. Whilst businesses may welcome the database they would be advised to be cautious of the potential implications for litigation.

Sex Discrimination Act – More Liability

Under the new rules employers are required to protect staff from sexual harassment by customers, suppliers and anyone else whom the employee may encounter in the course of their work. Employees will be entitled to seek compensation where the employer has failed to take reasonable steps to protect them from the sexual harassment by a third party. These new rules will have particular application to those working in the customer service and entertainment industries.

Control of Noise at Work Regulations

New laws for noise control protecting staff from hearing damage at work have now removed the exemption that was previously available to pubs, clubs and music venues. From now on staff working in this type of environment must be protected (although how precisely remains unclear). Suggestions for reducing exposure to high volumes of noise include rotating shifts, imposing strict volume control, use of directional speakers and physical adaptation such as moving the bars away from the main source of noise. Personal hearing protection should also be considered and employers working in such environments will now have to consider the risks both to the health and safety and potential claims.

Pub landlords will now have to avoid scenarios in which their bartenders are placed next to the amplifier.

ACAS

ACAS has published a new guide called Health, Work and Well-being to assist in recognising health problems among employees including depression.

ACAS have also indicated that the time limits applicable to the conciliation period will no longer apply and they will extend their assistance up to the final hearing if necessary.

ACAS are set to publish new guidelines on the disciplinary and grievance procedures because the current compulsory minimum procedures are due to be repealed..

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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