Deborah Moon looks back at 2014 and forward to 2015, and considers some of the practical implications for HR professionals in the public sector. This review concludes with a timetable of employment legislation to help HR professionals when planning for the year ahead.
It is common practice around this time of year to reflect on the key events and developments in the previous 12 months, and to undertake a similar analysis of what is expected during the year ahead. In employment law terms, 2014 continued to provide HR professionals with a variety of challenges in understanding and implementing a range of legislative changes, and in assessing the practical implications of a number of important case law decisions.
The year 2015 looks to be no less interesting, particularly as the employment landscape post-May is more uncertain than usual, pending the outcome of the General Election. Most, if not all, political commentators seem to agree on the difficulties of predicting, with any degree of certainty, the likely nature and composition of the new Government, including whether or not this may result in a clear majority for one party or whether we will be facing the prospect of another coalition and who the parties to that may be.
That was the year that was
Last year showed no let-up in the Government’s continuing programme of employment law reform, with a number of key changes in legislation taking place. In addition, there were a number of case decisions by the courts that were of particular note and which gave rise to considerable comment and debate, both in the HR and wider media. Some of these cases are ongoing with further judgments, and potential resulting implications for employers, expected in 2015.
Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE)
One of the main changes in legislation centred on the amendments to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE), most of which took effect in January 2014. Although the Government had initially proposed some fairly wide-ranging changes, including measures to remove what was seen as unnecessary “gold-plating” of the requirements of the EU Acquired Rights Directive, the final amendments were, perhaps, less significant than first anticipated.
The original proposal to remove the “service-provision change” aspect of the regulations did not, in the end, take place (something which many commentators welcomed), although a change was made to the definition of this. Other changes included those relating to the provisions on automatically unfair dismissals and post-transfer variations to terms and conditions, along with an extension of the time period for the provision of employee liability information.
In addition, an amendment was made enabling a transferee to commence pre-transfer consultation regarding proposed redundancies, with the agreement of the transferor.
Overall, the changes were seen as primarily positive from an employer perspective, although the ability to make post-transfer variations to harmonise terms and conditions — an issue which is of importance to many employers — still remains subject to significant limitations.
Reforms to the employment tribunal process
Following the changes made in 2013, further reforms to the employment tribunal process took place, particularly the introduction of mandatory early conciliation through Acas, another initiative designed to promote and encourage the Government’s stated objective of resolving workplace disputes without recourse to the tribunal system.
This requires that, for most employment tribunal claims, a potential claimant must first contact Acas with a view to seeing whether their complaint can be resolved through conciliation. Any claim submitted without such prior notification will be rejected by the tribunal. Acas will then attempt to conciliate between the relevant parties to the dispute. Although it is not mandatory to actually engage in this process, the aim is to reach a settlement and thus avoid tribunal proceedings. However, if the referral does not result in a settlement, then Acas will issue an early conciliation certificate and the claim will proceed. It is, perhaps, too early to assess how effective this process will be in reducing the number of tribunal claims. Any consideration of this also needs to be seen in the broader context of tribunal reforms, particularly the introduction of fees. In the meantime, some concerns have been expressed about Acas’ ability to resource this process effectively.
Employment tribunal fees
The introduction of employment tribunal fees in 2013 continued to be a controversial issue, particularly in the light of statistics revealing a significant drop in the number of claims. Commentators have noted that it may be too early to confidently assess the extent to which this reduction was directly caused by the fees regime, given the introduction of Acas conciliation, as noted above, together with an apparent “spike” in the number of claimants before the date on which the fees took effect.
UNISON sought to challenge the introduction of fees by way of judicial review (another area in which the Government has proposed reforms). In February 2014, its initial challenge failed as the High Court considered that the application was premature and that it was too early to judge how the system was working in practice. Permission was granted to UNISON to pursue the matter before the Court of Appeal but, following the publication of further statistics regarding the fall in the number of tribunal claims, it instead made a fresh application for judicial review to the High Court, considering it had a better prospect of success based on this evidence.
However, just before Christmas, and to the surprise of some commentators, the High Court rejected this second challenge – it appears that the further evidence put forward was not enough to persuade the Court that the fees violated the EU law principle of effectiveness, or that they constituted unlawful discrimination. UNISON has indicated it intends to appeal this decision and this is therefore unlikely to be the end of the matter. In addition, it is an issue on which the main political parties have very differing views and is likely to be one area of potential change, dependent on the outcome of the General Election. Labour has indicated it would scrap the charges should it form the next Government and the Liberal Democrats have also demanded an urgent review into the impact of the fees.
There were several other employment tribunal-related changes which occurred in 2014.
The introduction of a power for tribunals to impose a financial penalty of up to £5000 on employers found to have breached a claimant’s employment rights, where that breach is considered to have “one or more aggravating features”, eg where the action is deliberate or malicious, or where there has been a repeated breach. It remains to be seen if, in what circumstances, and to what extent tribunals may utilise this new power.
Repeal of the statutory questionnaire procedure which applied to discrimination and equal pay claims under the Equality Act 2010. However, notwithstanding this change, a potential claimant can still ask questions of the employer and tribunals may still take such exchanges into account when considering any subsequent cases. To help claimants and employers with this issue, Acas produced a guide Asking and responding to questions of discrimination in the workplace.
With effect from 1 October 2014, tribunals were given the power to order an equal pay audit where an employer is found to be in breach of equal pay legislation, other than in certain circumstances, eg where the employer has carried out an audit in the previous three years. However, commentators have expressed some scepticism as to the practical effect of this, given that there is a need for a claimant (or group of claimants) to mount a successful equal pay challenge in the first place. Many public sector employers, including those in local Government, having undertaken initial and subsequent equality-based pay and grading reviews and also undertake regular audits, or other monitoring, of these arrangements. The incidence of equal pay claims in the private sector is relatively low (although the progress of a claim launched by female staff working for Asda is being watched with interest). In these circumstances, it is considered this change is unlikely to have a discernible impact on the issue of equal pay and on closing the continuing gender pay gap. This is another issue which may be affected by the outcome of the General Election; for example, would any new Government be prepared to go further than the current voluntary approach to the publication of gender pay gap information and make this a statutory requirement for employers?
In June, the right to request flexible working, previously only available to parents and carers of adult dependents, was extended to all employees with 26 weeks’ continuous employment. At the same time, the statutory procedure for considering a request was abolished and replaced by the requirement to consider requests in a “reasonable manner” and within a “reasonable” time period (no longer than three months overall, other than where a longer timescale is agreed between the employer and employee). While this change provided greater flexibility for employers, one area of identified concern was how to manage several, potentially competing requests and whether this type of situation could give rise to complaints of unfair treatment, including on the grounds of discrimination. To help employers in managing requests under the new arrangements, Acas produced a guide, Handling Requests to Work Flexibly in a Reasonable Manner, along with a Code of Practice. Many public sector employers already had well-established flexible working arrangements, which were often extended to all employees, and, for them, this change appeared unlikely to have much, if any, significant practical effect. There may well be future case law on issues such as refusing requests and handling multiple requests – flexible and other forms of agile working continue to be valued and utilised by both employers and employees, and this is therefore likely to remain an area of interest.
Preparing for the introduction of Shared Parental Leave and Pay for children due to be born, or placed for adoption, on or after 5 April, has been the subject of much attention during 2014 — with the relevant legislative provisions coming into effect on 1 December. Prior to this, the right for fathers and partners to unpaid time off to accompany a pregnant woman to up to two antenatal appointments was introduced with effect from 1 October 2014.
The use (and abuse) of zero-hours contracts was another “hot topic” during 2014, with a range of views expressed by politicians, employers, trade unions and other commentators about their relative pros and cons. Some (limited) legislation on this issue is due to be introduced this year (see below) and, again, is likely to be a continuing theme whatever the political composition of the new Government.
National Minimum Wage
Continuing wage restraint, financial limits on public sector pay, and the economic difficulties faced by working families was also an ongoing issue, including discussions about the level of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and the benefits of paying the non-statutory Living Wage. The annual increase to the NMW took effect on 1 October and, in November, the London Living Wage rate and the rate which applies to the rest of the country were also increased. Regulations increasing the financial penalty for employers who fail to pay the NMW were introduced in 2014 and the Government continues to “name and shame” offending employers. Pay rates and the Living Wage will undoubtedly be a feature of continuing debate between the political parties in the run-up to the General Election, with a number of different views and potential commitments having already been expressed.
Whistleblowing and the use of so-called “gagging clauses” also continued to attract attention — in June the Government responded to its “call for evidence” on the effectiveness of the current legislation. While no major changes were proposed, a number of actions designed to address some identified problems were set out by the Government. Following this, the list of “prescribed persons” to whom a qualifying disclosure can be made, was amended with effect from 1 October 2014. Shortly after the Government published its response, the Commons Public Accounts Committee expressed its concerns about the arrangements for whistleblowing in Government departments and the treatment of public service employees who raise such concerns. It made a number of recommendations designed to strengthen trust and confidence in the system, reinforcing the importance of ensuring effective whistleblowing arrangements, with appropriate protections, within a public service environment.
Other changes in 2014 included:
amendment in March 2014 to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, reducing the length of rehabilitation periods for certain offences, ie the period after which the offence is considered to be “spent” and therefore does not need to be disclosed in a job application or at interview
the removal of the two-year qualifying period for armed forces reservists to bring a claim of unfair dismissal, effective from 1 October 2014.
In the courts
The courts and tribunals, both in the UK and at European level, continued to provide a steady stream of judgments on a range of issues of particular interest to HR professionals, including those relating to collective redundancy consultation, the calculation of holiday pay and whether or not obesity may constitute a disability.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal’s (EAT) judgment regarding the calculation of holiday pay, specifically in relation to the inclusion of overtime in that calculation, which arose from the three joined cases of Bear Scotland Ltd and ors v Fulton and ors; Hertel (UK) Ltd v Woods and ors; Amec Group Ltd v Law and ors, caused much consternation, analysis and debate. Its decision confirmed that payments in respect of non-guaranteed overtime which are made sufficiently regularly to form part of a worker’s “normal remuneration”, must be taken into account when calculating holiday pay under the EU Working Time Directive, and that the Working Time Regulations 1998 could be read in a way which achieves that result. However, another somewhat interesting aspect of the EAT’s judgment sought to significantly limit the scope for retrospective holiday pay claims under UK law.
Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 an employee may bring an unlawful deduction claim in respect of a “series of deductions” — this must normally be brought within three months of the last deduction in that series. This enables claimants to link together a series of underpayments in order to bring a backdated claim, regardless of the length of time that has elapsed between each deduction. However, in the above cases, the EAT held that if there is a gap of more than three months between any two deductions in the chain, the “series” of deductions is broken. This aspect of the judgment appeared to significantly restrict the scope for workers to claim arrears of holiday pay and a number of commentators questioned whether it might be the subject of an appeal and, potentially, overturned. However, although leave to appeal was given, UNITE, the trade union representing the claimants in the Hertel and Amec cases, subsequently indicated they would not be pursuing this.
Following the judgment, the Government set up a task force, comprising a range of business representatives, in order to assess the impact of the ruling for employers. The Government has also subsequently announced that a cap of two years is to be imposed on claims for back pay. In a press release issued just before Christmas by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), it was announced that action was being taken “to protect UK business from the potentially damaging impact of large backdated claims”. Regulations limiting claims for deductions from pay in respect of unpaid holiday to any deductions made in the preceding two year period will apply to claims lodged on or after 1 July 2015. Claims made before 1 July will be subject to the usual time limitation rules, prompting commentators to predict a “flood of claims” during the transitional period before this deadline.
BIS also confirmed that the taskforce was continuing to work through the implications of the EAT ruling and therefore there may be further resulting developments on this issue. This will be another area to watch in 2015.
What lies ahead?
Many of the issues which arose in 2014 will remain as continuing themes for this year. Perhaps the first main challenge for HR professionals will be managing the practical effects of the introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and Pay — it is likely that employers will have already started to receive enquiries from prospective parents whose babies are due around the effective date of 5 April, with the first “curtailment notices” and notices of entitlement and intention to take SPL being made in the near future.
Other changes will be made to adoption leave and pay, with a new right to take time off to attend adoption appointments, as well as the annual uprating of statutory payment rates. Changes to unpaid parental leave (not to be confused with SPL!), the introduction of the new Fit for Work Service and greater freedoms and flexibilities in pension arrangements are also due to take place. These are summarised in the timetable at the end of this article and are considered further below.
Aside from those changes which are already confirmed, or are already in the legislative “pipeline”, it is difficult to predict what may arise or occur later this year as this will be largely dependent on the nature and composition of the new Government following the General Election in early May. It is, perhaps, possible to speculate about some key themes, based on the views and proposals already expressed by the main political parties, and in the run-up to the election more details are likely to emerge.
Shared Parental Leave and Pay
As indicated above, probably the main change amongst those known to be taking place this year is the introduction of Shared Parental Leave and Pay. The provision of greater flexibility in parental leave arrangements has been a stated ambition of the main political parties for some time now, an ambition which was reflected in the 2011 Modern Workplaces consultation. Following further consultations on the more detailed arrangements, draft and then final Regulations, the new arrangements are finally taking effect. In summary, these enable eligible working parents to share the responsibility for the care of their new child in the first year of its life by providing greater flexibility in how and when leave is taken, and by whom. The new mother will be able to end her maternity leave and pay early so that the remaining balance can be shared with her spouse/partner. Similar arrangements will also apply to adoptive parents and to intended parents of a child born through a surrogacy arrangement.
As well as meeting the various eligibility criteria, parents who wish to take advantage of the new arrangements must comply with a series of notification requirements. There are also various “protections” for those who take SPL (similar to those which already apply to maternity, paternity and adoption leave), as well as provision for keeping in touch through the use of Shared Parental Leave in Touch (SPLIT) days. To help employers in preparing for SPL, Acas has published a good practice guide for employers and employees, along with a sample SPL Policy. BIS has also published a technical guide to the new arrangements.
One of the issues which has been a topic of some debate in the HR media and which has, no doubt, been under consideration by employers who currently offer enhanced occupational maternity pay, is whether or not to offer enhanced shared parental pay on a similar basis. Concerns have been expressed that not providing the same occupational pay arrangements to SPL as those which apply to maternity leave could result in claims of sex discrimination and various views have been expressed about the potential strengths (or otherwise) of this type of argument.
There is no requirement in the SPL Regulations for employers to provide equivalent benefits to those taking SPL which may be provided to women on maternity leave. The BIS Technical Guide to SPL and ShPP states that: “it will be entirely at the discretion of employers whether they wish to offer occupational parental schemes for men and women taking shared parental leave” and “...there is no legal requirement for companies to create occupational parental leave schemes.”
Surveys in the HR press have indicated that a number of employers who currently provide an occupational maternity pay scheme will also be offering an occupational pay scheme to parents who take SPL. Others may be taking a “wait and see” approach, continuing to provide an occupational maternity pay scheme but adopting a policy that parents of either sex who opt for shared parental leave will not be eligible for similarly enhanced pay. The Local Government Association has advised that there are currently no plans to introduce a national occupational ShPP scheme for local government services staff.
Commentators on this issue have also noted the outcome of a recent employment tribunal case, Shuter v Ford Motor Company, in which a male employee who had taken Additional Paternity Leave (APL) sought to argue that he had suffered direct sex discrimination in comparison with a female employee taking maternity leave. Under the Ford scheme, women on maternity leave received full pay for 52 weeks but men on APL only received statutory pay. The claim was dismissed on the basis that the proper comparator was a woman on APL — a man on APL could not compare himself with a woman on maternity leave. A claim of indirect discrimination was also rejected on the basis that the Ford scheme was justified by its aim of attracting and retaining women to a male-dominated workforce. Of course, this is only an ET case (setting no precedent) and it is unclear whether similar reasoning could, or would, be applied to SPL. In addition, the circumstances which applied in this case, in particular, that it was within a male-dominated workforce/sector, will not necessarily apply elsewhere. The employer was able to produce detailed evidence to support its justification argument, something which employers who may be subject to future challenge may wish to keep in mind, ensuring they have a clear rationale for any policy decisions.
The current Additional Paternity Leave arrangements will be abolished on 5 April to make way for the new SPL regime
Changes to the current adoption leave and pay arrangements will also take place on this date: the requirement for an employee to have 26 weeks’ continuous service to qualify for statutory adoption leave will be removed and SAP rates will be aligned with SMP. There will also be a new right for a “primary” adopter (including a prospective adopter in a “fostering for adoption” case) to take paid time off for up to five adoption appointments, each of up to 6.5 hours. The adopting partner will be eligible to take unpaid leave for two appointments.
The current statutory right to unpaid parental leave which may be taken by a parent up until their child’s fifth birthday will be extended, allowing the leave to be taken at any time before the child’s 18th birthday. Again, this change will apply from 5 April.
Fit for Work service
The new Government-backed Health at Work service — now known as the Fit for Work service — designed to assist staff who have been off sick to return to work went “live” on 15 December 2014. The voluntary scheme, which is intended to complement existing occupational health services, consists of two aspects, an advice line and website for employers, employees and GPs to help individuals stay in or return to work, and an assessment of employees by an occupational health professional.
The Fit for Work advice line is available online or by phone to provide advice on return to work issues and preventing sickness absence. The assessment service is due to be rolled out across the country in the coming months, with exact dates to be announced by the Government.
Under the assessment element of the scheme, once the employee has reached or is likely to reach four weeks of sickness absence, they can, with their agreement, be referred by their GP for an assessment with an occupational health professional. Although the primary route for referrals will be via GPs, employers may also be able to refer an employee, with their consent, to the service if the GP has not done so after four weeks’ absence. Following an assessment, employees will receive a Return to Work plan with recommendations to help them get back to their job more quickly and information on how to access appropriate interventions. The decision whether or not to implement the recommendations will be a matter for the employer, employee and GP.
In addition, from 1 January 2015 the Government introduced a tax exemption where employers fund the costs of medical treatments recommended by a healthcare professional as part of either Fit for Work or any employer-arranged OH service. This is limited to £500 per employee per tax year.
Many public sector employers are likely to have established occupational health arrangements, either in-house or through an external provider and will therefore need to consider how, and to what extent, this new service may be of assistance to them. It would seem that its primary focus is on smaller employers and those who have limited access to occupational health services and advice.
Defined-contribution pension schemes
The other main change that will take place in April is the provision of greater freedom and choice in how and when individuals can draw their benefits from defined-contribution pension schemes, as previously announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in last year’s Budget statement. Given that employees in the public sector are more likely to be members of their particular employer’s occupational scheme, such as the LGPS, these changes would seem unlikely to have the type of direct impact that will arise for other employers.
Tax-free childcare scheme
In the autumn, the new tax-free childcare scheme is due to come into effect, replacing the current employer-supported arrangements. Eligible working parents will get an allowance of up to £2000 per child in order to help pay for the costs of childcare. Concerns have recently been expressed about the impact of childcare costs on families and support for working parents may well be another key issue during the forthcoming election campaign. In the meantime, employers who offer childcare vouchers as part of their benefits package will need to consider the practical implications of the changes for their current arrangements.
Zero hours contracts
As indicated previously, the topic of zero-hours contracts was the subject of much attention during 2014 and is likely to be one of the continuing themes for the future. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill contains a provision which will amend the Employment Rights Act to define zero-hours contracts and make exclusivity clauses in those contracts unenforceable, seeking to ensure that zero-hours workers are not restricted from doing work other than under those contracts.
The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill
Other employment-related measures contained in the Bill include a financial penalty for employers who fail to pay sums ordered by an employment tribunal or owed under a settlement agreement reached following Acas conciliation, and an increase in the maximum financial penalty for underpayment of the National Minimum Wage to £20,000 per worker.
The Deregulation Bill
Another new employment-related change is contained in the Deregulation Bill, repealing the power for employment tribunals to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases.
Proposed changes to employment tribunal rules
The Government is consulting on proposed changes to employment tribunal rules, which would limit the number of postponements of a case, with the aim of providing a more efficient service. This consultation closes on 12 March.
Consolidated set of regulations
As indicated previously, the policy approach to, and rates of, the National Minimum Wage and Living Wage are likely to be a topic of debate during the election campaign. In the meantime, following a consultation in 2014, the Government has confirmed it will be proceeding with a consolidated set of regulations in April. These will not make any substantive changes to the regulations and are part of the Government’s overall Red Tape challenge. The aim is to make the rules clearer and more workable for employers and employees. Among the responses to the consultation, there was a call for greater clarity in a number of areas, eg in relation to sleeping time, travel time and rest breaks. The Government has indicated that guidance on the NMW will be reviewed during 2015, with further consideration given to the views of respondents. Given that a number of these issues are particularly relevant to the care sector, local government, and other public service providers, will be hoping that these do deliver greater clarity in what can be a complex and tricky area.
There is also the potential for legislation to make caste discrimination a form of race discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (although in the recent case of Tirkey v Chandok, the Employment Appeal Tribunal indicated that caste could come within the definition of race (ethnic origin) under the Equality Act).
Collective redundancy consultation
The UK’s relationship with Europe will undoubtedly feature in the main political parties’ election campaigns — in the employment field many UK laws stem from European Directives and the decisions of courts and tribunals are impacted and influenced by those of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). One such decision which is awaited is that related to collective redundancy consultation following a referral from the Court of Appeal in the case of USDAW & anor v Ethel Austin Ltd & ors, ie does the 20-employee threshold for triggering collective consultation apply to one establishment or to the whole organisation? The outcome of this will potentially have implications for public sector reorganisation and redundancy procedures and HR professionals will, no doubt, be awaiting this with interest.
There may also be further developments on the issue of obesity, following the ECJ’s judgment in the case of Kaltoft v Municipality of Billund (a Danish case), when the court ruled that obesity can, in some circumstances, amount to a disability. While the ECJ held that there is no general principle of EU law which prohibits discrimination on the ground of obesity, it went on to hold that there are conditions under which obesity can amount to a disability, ie if the obesity “entails a limitation resulting in particular from long-term physical, mental or psychological impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers”. This would be the case, in particular, where the obesity results in reduced mobility, or the onset of related medical conditions. It remains to be seen how this will be applied/interpreted in the UK courts but in the meantime, employers should be aware of the potential protection available to both employees and candidates for employment and ensure they act accordingly.
The public sector perspective
Measures to recover exit payments from high earners who leave the public sector and return to work in the same “sub-sector” within a period of 12 months – this has caused a certain amount of controversy and criticism, with some doubts expressed about how workable it will be in practice. The Government has now published a draft version of The Repayment of Public Sector Exit Payments Regulations 2015. These will not apply to an exit payment made to an “exit payee” who, in the 12 months prior to the end of their employment, or before they ceased to hold office, earned remuneration of under £100,000. However, as the actual implementation is not due until 2016 these new provisions may be affected by the outcome of the General Election.
The Conservative party has proposed that, if re-elected, it will impose a “cap” of £95,000 on redundancy payments for public sector workers.
Reforms to industrial action legislation
The Conservative party had already signalled intended reforms to industrial action legislation and have also proposed further specific changes relating to the public sector. This would require a minimum of 40% of eligible voters required to support industrial action before any “walk out” would be legal. Again, any such potential changes are dependent on their winning the General Election.
Senior management pay
Levels of senior management pay in Local Government and other parts of the public sector have continued to attract attention from politicians and the media and it is likely that this will continue to be an issue of debate and scrutiny, in the same way as that relating to so-called “boomerang–bosses” and the “scandal” of “revolving-door payments”, which the legislation on the recovery of exit payments is designed to address.
Pay rates at the lower end of the scale
There is mounting concern about pay rates at the lower end of the public and employment sector — indeed, even David Cameron recently exhorted employers to “give Britain a pay rise” suggesting that British companies should pass on the fruits of their successes through increased wages, although it was not clear if and how this applied to public-sector employees. At a time of falling unemployment and an increasingly competitive recruitment market, concerns have been expressed about the ability of the public sector to attract and retain the type of staff necessary for the challenging service and working environment it continues to face. With calls for greater local freedoms and devolved powers within the sector, together with the on-going financial constraints, it would seem clear that the pace of change is unlikely to let up for HR professionals and the services they support and provide during 2015 and beyond.
Timetable of employment legislation in 2015
The timetable below sets out, as far as possible, the key items of employment legislation intended for introduction during 2015. There are likely to be further legislative changes following the General Election in May. However, the nature and timing of these will be dependent on the composition of the new Government, as well as what other priorities there may be within the particular political agenda.
Shared Parental Leave and Pay
Available to eligible parents with a baby due to be born, or child placed for adoption, on or after 5 April 2015. Mothers will continue to be eligible for maternity leave and pay, as currently. Where the mother chooses to bring her maternity leave and pay to an early end, parents will be able to share the remaining balance, up to a maximum 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ pay. Similar arrangements will apply to eligible parents of a child born through a surrogacy arrangement.
Additional paternity leave and pay will be abolished at the same time.
Various regulations, including the Shared Parental Leave Regulations 2014, bring these changes into effect.
*5 April 2015
Adoption Leave and Pay
Removal of the 26-week qualifying period for adoption leave, bringing this in line with maternity leave.
Statutory adoption pay will be brought in line with SMP, ie it will be paid at 90% of average weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks.
Adoption Leave and Pay Removal of the 26-week qualifying period for adoption leave, bringing this in line with maternity leave. Statutory adoption pay will be brought in line with SMP, ie it will be paid at 90% of average weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks. Adoption leave and pay extended to prospective parents in the “fostering for adoption” system and eligible parents of a child born through a surrogacy arrangement.
5 April 2015
Time off to attend adoption appointments
A new right providing time off to attend adoption appointments. The primary adopter will be able to take paid time off to attend up to five appointments. The secondary adopter will be able to take unpaid time off to attend up to two appointments.
5 April 2015
New rates of statutory maternity pay, etc.
Statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay will increase from £138.18 to £ 139.58 per week. Statutory shared parental pay will also be paid at this rate. The earnings threshold for these benefits will increase from £111 to £112.
5 April 2015
Unpaid Parental Leave
Unpaid Parental Leave Extends the existing unpaid parental leave arrangements so that leave may be taken at any time before the child’s 18th birthday.
5 April 2015
New rates of statutory sick pay
The Government has announced that statutory sick pay will increase from £87.55 to £88.45 per week. The earnings threshold will also rise from £111 to £112.
6 April 2015
Increases in statutory redundancy pay and in the compensatory award for unfair dismissal
The annual increases in these rates are due to take effect. The new rates are yet to be announced.
New pension flexibilities
Provision of greater freedoms and flexibilities in how pensions may be taken from defined-contribution pension schemes, as provided for within the Pension Schemes Bill
National Minimum Wage
Consolidation of NMW Regulations.
6 April 2015
Holiday pay claims
Amendment to the Employment Rights Act1996 and Working Time Regulations 1998 which will limit claims for deductions from pay in respect of unpaid holiday to the two year period before that claim.
Deduction from Wages (Limitation) Regulations 2014
1 July 2015
New tax-free childcare scheme
Introduction of new tax-free childcare scheme, replacing the current employer-supported arrangements.
National Minimum Wage
Expected annual adjustment
* The relevant regulations came into force on 1 December 2014.
Acas: Asking and responding to questions of discrimination in the workplace
Handling requests to work flexibly in a reasonable manner
Acas: Shared Parental Leave: a good practice guide for employers and employees
Sample Shared Parental Leave policy.
All the above available on the Acas website.
About the author
Deborah Moon is a consultant in human resources, specialising in local government.
Last reviewed 18 February 2015