Employment Law Changes

Early conciliation

From 6th April 2014, anyone considering an employment tribunal claim will be required to lodge the details with Acas in the first instance.  Acas will then offer both parties the opportunity to engage in conciliation with a conciliation officer.

What does it mean to me?

To business owners, this means that there is a further opportunity to resolve matters before a tribunal claim is made.  It is reliant on both parties being willing to engage in the conciliation process but it may mean that a costly and time-consuming tribunal claim can be avoided, saving you time and money.

Financial penalties at Tribunal

From April 2014, tribunals will have the power to impose a financial penalty against employers that are in breach of employment rights where the breach has one or more aggravating features.  The key points to note are:

  • The penalty can be between £100 and £5000 and can be levied against an employer who has lost a case.
  • The penalty does not go to the claimant but to the Secretary of State and the Consolidated Fund.
  • A financial penalty may be ordered against an employer even if a financial award has not been made to the claimant.
  • If a financial award has been made, the financial penalty must be 50% of the amount of the award.
  • If the employer pays the penalty within 21 days it will get a 50% discount.

Tribunals must take account of the employer’s ability to pay when deciding whether to order a penalty.

What does it mean to me?

Unhelpfully, the legislation itself doesn’t explain what will be considered an “aggravating feature” which means that it’s difficult to say what kind of breach/es will be taken into consideration.  It has been suggested that penalties should be imposed where unreasonable behaviour has been involved, such as negligence or malice.  However, it is believed that genuine mistakes by an employer will not be penalised.

As with most employment law changes, it remains to be seen just what effect these financial penalties will have once they come into play.  Another incentive, if one were needed, to take advice early and get it right when dealing with your employees!

Right to request flexible working

Under the Children and Families Bill, the right to request flexible working will be extended to all employees from 6th April.  Previously, the right applied only to employees with children under the age of 17 (18 if a child is disabled) or who are carers.

What does it mean to me?

The other important thing to be aware of is that the statutory process for considering requests for flexible working is now being replaced.  Instead of a statutory process that must be followed, employers will now have a duty to deal with the request in a reasonable manner.  In our experience, we often see two different reactions to a flexible working request.  The first is to assume that you are obliged to agree the request, regardless of the impact on your business.  The second is to assume that it would never work and should be rejected.

This change now means that any employee may make the request but it is still the case that no employee has the automatic right to insist on changing their working hours.  However, with potentially more applications being received, it’s more important than ever to look at each request on its merits and deal with it reasonably.  If it can be accommodated then it should be.  If it cannot, then the employee needs to understand the reasons you have for rejecting the request.

Statutory rates increased

As usual, the statutory pay rates are increasing from 6th April 2014 as follows:

Statutory Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Pay (SMP, SPP, SAP)

The rates for statutory pay for maternity, paternity and adoption pay will all increase from 6thApril from £136.78 to £138.18.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP)

Statutory Sick Pay rates will increase to £87.55 per week.

What does this mean to me?

From 6th April, any rates you are paying to employees on statutory leave must be increased in line with the new minimum rates.

And finally…

Although this last update has yet to be given a confirmed date, it will be of interest to every employer at some point.  The Government has indicated that a new Health and Work Service is to be introduced, possibly in spring 2014, to offer free occupational health assistance to employers, employees and GPs.  The new service will include an independent assessment of employees who have been off sick for four weeks or more.

It remains to be seen how this service will work in practice but the pledge to support employers in dealing with sickness absence is a welcome one.  Medical issues and concerns are difficult at the best of times and while every employer wants to support their staff, there also needs to be a recognition of the effects on a business when a member of staff is off sick.