Last reviewed 12 April 2022

Looking back to December 2019, before the world was irrevocably changed by the Covid pandemic, employers had another issue on their minds: the Employment Bill. This much lauded piece of legislation, containing many of the recommendations from the Taylor Review and subsequent Good Work Plan, was set to bring in a raft of new rights for employees and make Britain the “best place to work in the world”.

So what happened?

With the Queen’s Speech rapidly approaching, in which the monarch sets out the Government’s legislative agenda for the next parliamentary session, many have been speculating whether or not we will finally see the introduction into law of the Employment Bill.

Not, would seem to be the answer from one government official. Whilst we do not yet know for certain what will be announced, it seems likely we will see further delays in the introduction of this increasingly important piece of legislation that has been previously intended for “when the time is right”.

Union calls for publication date

Over 30 trade unions, including RMT, Nautilus, Unite, Unison and GMB, have written to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng seeking a publication date for the Government’s “long-overdue” Employment Bill.

They have called for strengthened employment legislation to properly protect workers from unfair dismissal and to penalise bad employers, prompted by:

“The callous, illegal and pre-meditated firing of 800 workers by P&O Ferries”, the unions’ letter states, “marks a new low point in UK industrial relations – and shows once again the weakness of our employment law framework in protecting working people”.

What might we see in the Employment Bill?

A single enforcement body

This body would have a threefold remit: make vulnerable workers aware of their rights, empower them to exercise these rights and support compliance by businesses with employment law.

Tips for workers

This was first proposed in October 2019. This legislation would require employers to pass all tips and service charges to workers and will be enforced in line with a new statutory code of practice.

The right to request a more predictable contract

This introduces the ability of zero hours workers to request a more stable contract after 26 weeks’ service and comes about as a result of the Good Work Plan.

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination: extending redundancy protection

The intention is to extend the protection offered to those who are pregnant and new mothers from selection for redundancy from the point that the employer is notified of the pregnancy and only come to an end six months after the mother returns to work from maternity leave.

Leave for neonatal care

Consultation took place on this right in 2019 and closed in October of that year. This right would support parents whose babies are sick or are born prematurely and in need of specialist care. This would include the right to both leave and pay.

A week's leave for unpaid carers

A manifesto pledge for the Conservative party, this leave has still not been introduced.

Making flexible working the default

Another manifesto pledge, this would embed flexible working as a normal practice for employers and require them to provide strong reasons should they wish to refuse a request for it.

What should employers be doing now?

There is already some detail that is available on these rights, such as carer’s leave — we know this will be unpaid, yearly and for a week. As such, when this is made law, it will be relatively easy for employers to adopt as it will be a matter of arranging cover during the leave period, rather than extensive investigation as to whether or not this should be available.

Flexible working, on the other hand, is going to require a lot more consideration. Consultation conducted and concluded in the later half of 2021 looked into the details of flexible working and put forward a number of areas for reform, including the process to follow, time limits, the specific reasons for refusal and the ban on two or more applications in a year. When this does come into law, therefore, there will be a number of elements to this that employers will need to adapt their existing policies and procedures to, and therefore employers that felt trepidation as a result of this change will be relieved that they will have more time to prepare.

Preparation will come in the form of new policies, letters for staff and training for managers in charge of delivering these rights. Whilst it would be unwise to finalise and publish these materials before the Act becomes law, having them in readiness will ensure a smooth transition when it does.

Do employers need to wait?

UK employment law sets a minimum threshold that employers must meet when dealing with their workers. However, there is nothing that prevents employers from introducing these things now should they wish to. Employers looking to attract and retain the best talent to their business and offer their staff rights that go above and beyond the “bare minimum” put themselves in the best position to show their commitment to their workers and, in return, may well enjoy increased engagement and loyalty to their business.

Takeaway

We know that these rights will be introduced, we just don’t know when that might be. As such, when the opportunity arises, starting to get familiar with what will come and taking the time to fully consider how the organisation will respond will ease the pressure that will inevitably come when these rights are introduced, allowing for quick and decisive action as and when it is needed.