The number of employment law changes planned for each new year never seems to diminish, whichever government is in place. It looks as if 2013 will be no exception, but the year will bring both challenges and opportunities for businesses.
First the challenges. The right for parents to take unpaid parental leave where they have children up to 5 is to be increased in March from 13 to 18 weeks as a result of European legislation. In 2015, the right will be extended to cover children up to the age of 18.
Those changes are made in advance of more fundamental changes to paternity leave which will allow parents to share the equivalent of the maternity leave period once their child is two weeks old, provided the total leave does not exceed 50 weeks. It will be interesting to see what the take up is and it may well appeal to couples where the mother has greater earning power than her partner.
These changes have been put off until 2015 to allow businesses to prepare for them, while the right for all employees to request flexible working will arrive in 2014.
Adoptive couples and agency workers will also see an increase in their rights around leave for childcare purposes.
Equality Act – now you see it, now you don’t
Other provisions are specifically designed to reduce burdens on businesses.
In March this year, the government will repeal the fairly recent rules which allowed employees to bring a claim for harassment by a third party (i.e. not a member of your staff). At present employers could find themselves sued if one of their employees is harassed by someone over whom they have no direct control such as a customer or contractor, if the employee has raised two complaints with you over their treatment.
The longer-established rules allowing an employee to submit a statutory questionnaire over allegations of discrimination is also to be repealed.
Reduced Consultation Periods for Mass Redundancies
Where mass redundancies are concerned, the current consultation periods with unions or employee reps will be reduced from 90 days to 45 days where 100 or more jobs are to go.
Perhaps most radical of the new proposals coming into effect this year, is that of employee-shareholder contracts. Under this proposal employers will be able to offer new (but not existing) employees the opportunity to waive their rights to claim unfair dismissal, to a redundancy payment and to request flexible working (amongst other things) in exchange for shares in the company to the tune of £2,000 to £50,000. There will be no Capital Gains tax on any gains in the shares. Details of the scheme are awaited. It may be attractive to new start-ups and innovative technology companies where all those involved are keen to take a stake in the business and to limit their mutual liabilities. Its wider take up is uncertain as employees may be reluctant to give up such important rights – parents and those with caring responsibilities, in particular, may be put off
Finally, the government is looking to reduce the number of employment tribunal claims by introducing fees for both commencing a claim and taking it to a hearing.
One thing is certain for 2013 – it is as important as ever that businesses keep up to speed with ever-changing employment laws. The pace of change shows no signs of slowing just yet.