Employment law consultations aplenty this Autumn

The summer was an unusually busy one for government announcements and consultations on proposed changes to employment law. Although it is not guaranteed that these proposals will become law, particularly given the current political uncertainties, these are a strong indicator of the direction of travel. Lisa Branker, employment law expert with Richard Reed Solicitors, outlines the proposals.

Tackling harassment at work

The #MeToo campaign continues to set the agenda. Last year, a Parliamentary select committee produced a report on workplace harassment. In particular, the select committee was struck by how the protection from the “long-standing and endemic problem” of workplace harassment varied according to the individual’s employment status and who was the harasser.

In response, the government set out a raft of proposals. This consultation ends on 2 October 2019. Proposals include:

  • a duty on employers to prevent harassment in the workplace. If introduced, this could mean a significant shift from the current situation where an employer can be liable for its employees’ harassment but has no active duty to prevent it happening in the first place;
  • protection for interns and volunteers by widening the scope of the Equality Act 2010 to allow them to bring discrimination claims in the employment tribunal;
  • longer timeframe to bring claims could make it easier to bring employment tribunal claims under the Equality Act 2010. At the moment, individuals only have three months to bring most claims under the Equality Act 2010; and
  • increased protection from discrimination from a third party, such as a customer or supplier. The current protection for employees in these circumstances has been criticised by campaign groups and the Parliamentary select committee as inadequate.
Protecting workers in the gig economy

A second big theme is the rights of vulnerable workers in the gig economy and workers on zero-hours contracts. Back in 2017, the Taylor review of modern working practices was published along with suggestions from the Law Pay Commission on addressing ‘one-sided flexibility’. The government’s response, the Good Work Plan, which it bills as ‘the largest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation’, is still being put into effect.

The government is consulting on the following:

  • a right to reasonable and recordable work schedules and other ways of tackling the issue of workers being allocated shifts with limited notice (Consultation closes on 11 October 2019);
  • a right to compensation for shifts cancelled at short notice (Consultation is closes 11 October 2019); and
  • state enforcement of holiday pay rights for vulnerable workers, rather than leaving it to the individual to pursue their rights in an employment tribunal (Consultation closes on 6 October).
Shake-up of family-friendly leave

Encouraging fathers to take more paternity leave is one aim of proposals to overhaul family-friendly leave and pay arrangements. The government is seeking views on:

  • introducing neo-natal leave and pay for parents whose baby needs neo-natal care. At present, there are no particular rights to support parents in this situation beyond the usual family-friendly rights (Consultation closes on 11 October 2019) and
  • ways to better support working parents to balance work and family life (Consultation closes 29 November 2019).
Reducing health-related job loss

To support disabled people and those with long-term health conditions to stay in work, (In a consultation which ends on 7 October 2019) the government proposes measures including:

  • a right to request workplace modifications on health grounds;
  • extending eligibility for statutory sick pay (SSP) to include those earning less than the current threshold; and
  • increased flexibility for SSP, which would allow employees to continue to receive some SSP during a phased return to work.

Following consultation earlier this year, the government also announced its commitment to introducing new laws, when Parliament has time, on the following:

  • redundancy protection for new mothers which would extend existing protection for women on maternity leave for six months after returning to work, as well as extending protection to include pregnant women; and
  • ending the misuse of non-disclosure agreements in discrimination situations, so that individuals can still go to the police and discuss their situation with their health and legal professionals.

Finally, the government announced its intention to reform the law on criminal record disclosure to help ex-offenders into work. More details should follow later in the year.

For advice on how these changes could affect your business or any other employment issue, please contact Lisa Branker in the employment law team on 0191 567 0465 or email: [email protected]

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