8 Need-to-Know UK Employment Law Updates

Welcome to this 2 minute HR Blast. This week we wanted to spend some time ensuring you are up to date with all things employment law. Please feel free to share with any managers who also need to be in the know.

Although we haven’t seen any big changes in Employment Law this autumn, there are lots of smaller changes that could have a big impact. We have put together some of the key legal areas for HR professionals to ensure you are ready!

1. National Minimum Wage

  • On October 1st, the National Minimum Wage increased from £6.50 to £6.70 (for those aged 25 and over), which is a 3% rise, the biggest rise for 7 years.
  • George Osbourne has promised to continue to increase the National Minimum Wage. Significantly, it will rise to £7.20 in April 2016 and eventually rise to £9 an hour by 2020.
  • Have you planned your labour costs for the next 5 years taking this into account? Perhaps employer pension contributions too if you are just launching a scheme? The increase could easily represent an additional 34% on your labour costs if you employ multiple staff on a low wage.
  • For some organisations, this will require a radical review of how they operate in order to maintain profitability. If this is you, you need to start this process now. Please don’t leave it too late and if you need help with any reorganisation or redundancies, please call us sooner rather than later.

2. Working from Home

At least 14% of people that work in the UK, work at home (either from time to time or permanently), and it’s been steadily increasing, year on year. If you don’t yet offer or encourage homeworking, consider whether you might be missing out on talent that your competitors are picking up.

We have seen increasing numbers of companies allowing flexible working, hot desking and so on. The advantages are numerous, in terms of cost benefits and flexibility for employees/employers – but these new arrangements do need to be carefully managed for a number of employment law and employee relations reasons. Have you:

  • Got a clear home working policy so everyone is clear about the organisation’s expectations and how the arrangements will be managed?
  • Trained your managers so they feel confident managing and communicating with remote workers?
  • Completed a risk assessment and kept them on file for all home working staff?
  • Got clear contracts that show whether home working is a contractual right or something that is occasionally agreed (not a contractual right)?
  • Got a clear policy regarding the safeguarding of your confidential company information and client or staff personal data?

3. Zero-Hour Contracts

Zero-hour contracts are those contracts in which the employee or worker is not guaranteed any hours of work – the employer can offer work and the individual can either accept or decline. These types of contracts have been used extensively in many organisations due to their flexibility but are a hot topic at the moment as they can be used unethically. As a reminder:

  • Employees on zero-hour contracts are entitled to statutory employment rights e.g. in relation to holiday, sickness etc.

Be aware that if you employ someone on a zero-hour contract for a set number of hours or a set schedule each week, then over time custom and practice may mean that you have created a new contractual arrangement with them. You will need to regularly review your zero hours to:

  • ensure you have the right contract in place for the individual e.g. would a permanent or a fixed term contract with a set number of hours be more appropriate.
  • make sure that you are not accumulating zero-hour staff who are not being actively used. This can be a big problem in some organisations where the numbers of zero-hour staff can become so large it’s unmanageable – even if you are not using these staff members, they may well have employment rights, so you need to make sure that the zero-hour contracts you have in place are used on a reasonably regular basis.

You cannot have an exclusivity clause in your zero-hour contracts, as a result, you cannot stop an individual on a zero-hour contract from looking for work or accepting work from another employer. Check to ensure your contracts do not contain exclusivity clauses.

And remember, if you have a disgruntled member of staff who finds they are unable to bring a claim against you on the basis of their contractual rights which are ‘zero’, they might be more inclined to seek to identify if there is a discrimination claim that can be brought. Don’t find you have solved one problem, only to find that that solution has created another!

4. Devices/Social Media

There are increasing numbers of Employment Tribunal cases, where employees have been dismissed after making inappropriate comments on Facebook (or similar). We see problems like this all the time at Jaluch. Employees are using multiple devices at work these days – at their desk, at their computer, in their car and whilst some of their use may well be in connection with work, or very reasonable usage, there is a balance, and everyone needs to be clear about what is acceptable and what isn’t.

We also see an enormous number of organisations that don’t have a social media or IT policy and certainly don’t have a comprehensive one that is clear! Employees and managers need clarity about what is expected and acceptable – ideally via a policy and training, and what the consequences are if the rules are broken!

Also, before the next embarrassing posting or picture, be clear in your leadership team about where you draw the line. What will result in dismissal? What will result in a low-level warning? What will result in a high-level warning and what will just result in a slap on the wrists? Be clear about what your standards are and what you expect and communicate those.

5. Shared Parental Leave

In April 2015, the Government introduced a whole raft of changes, most notably a new type of leave; Shared Parental Leave which can be shared between parents in blocks. However, there were also changes to unpaid parental leave, adoption leave and paternity leave. This is an absolute minefield so you cannot leave your managers unsure what the policy and approach is.

Are you sure that all of your family friendly policies are up to date? Do you have accompanying documentation to enable you to deal with any requests for leave?

Be aware that the Government has stated that working grandparents will be included in Shared Parental Leave from 2018 – so we await further changes yet!

6. Holiday Pay

Are you comfortable with all the changes that have happened over the course of the last year or so regarding holiday, sickness and holiday, overtime and holiday and so on? If not, here are a few reminders:

  • All full-time employees are entitled to a statutory holiday allowance of 28 days (including 8 days bank holiday). Part time staff should have their holiday and bank holiday allowances pro-rated.
  • Employees who are sick while on holiday are entitled to receive their holiday entitlement back for the period that they were sick – providing that they phone in and follow your absence notification procedures while on holiday!
  • Employees are entitled to receive their ‘normal remuneration’ whilst on holiday, so this means any regular payments they receive e.g. guaranteed overtime, regular commission or shift payments should be included in the holiday calculation.
    • N.B This ruling only applies to the statutory 28 days holiday (which includes 8 days bank holidays) so if you have more holiday than this you may possibly adopt a different practice for any additional holiday you offer.
    • In order to minimise the chance of a claim from employees, you will need to think about how you introduce this change. There are a few options, you could start the new method of calculation now, or you could start it from your next holiday year, or otherwise back date the change to the start of your holiday year.

Lastly, Two Hot Topics from the Jaluch Advice Desk …

7. Stress

If we could encourage you to spend a bit of time offering guidance and training to your managers, the topic we would suggest is stress management. What should managers do, how often should they speak to their sick employees, when should OH be involved and what do you do if stress is used as a reason to avoid disciplinary action. Your managers need training as this is such a complex and tough issue to manage.

8. New Starters

Honesty and health are two unrelated problems that arise with new starters in the first few weeks or months and that cause so many headaches. Encourage your managers to actively use the probationary periods you have to manage and/or dismiss where appropriate at an early stage. Hesitating, delaying and giving too many ‘benefit of the doubts’ only creates bigger and more complex long-term management issues. Encourage your managers to tighten up in this area.

Interested in Support from our Help Desk?

Call in to see how we operate. No contract required, simply pay as you go if that is what you prefer to begin a relationship with us. Friendly, professional help from consultants who will come and see you when the issues get complicated. We promise you great service and prompt, reliable support.

Or why not get in touch to ask about our supervisory, management and leadership training. We have two training offerings:

  • we can deliver a selected course or programme for you. Employment Law Essentials.
  • we can create materials for you to use in order to deliver your own programme in-house.

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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