The times they are a changing
The face of employment law saw radical change in 2013 and there seems to be no let-up for 2014 with a number of further changes already scheduled to take effect throughout next year.
We have highlighted the most important imminent changes below:-
As of 6 April 2014, Claimants will no longer be permitted to submit new claims direct to an Employment Tribunal. Instead there will be a requirement to first contact ACAS, the independent conciliation service, who will attempt to promote a settlement between the parties. Only in situations where such settlements cannot be agreed shall a claim then be allowed to go to a Tribunal.
Financial Penalties for Employers
April 2014 also introduces the power for Tribunals to order an employer, who has lost at Tribunal, to pay a financial penalty of up to £5,000 to the Secretary of State. Whilst such headline grabbing financial penalties are sure to anger employers, we have been assured that any penalty will only be ordered against an employer where "aggravating" features have played a major part in a claim. There is also some relief for employers in that a 50% reduction will be given if the penalty is paid within 21 days of the order.
Now for some good news for employers; statutory discrimination questionnaires will finally be abolished. The Government has listened to feedback and decided that a less informal approach to the subject, namely through ACAS guidance, will be fairer for all.
Zero hour contracts
Zero hour contracts, another media favourite, will again likely come under the spotlight in 2014 following the results of a Government consultation. Changes are likely to be made in respect of "exclusivity clauses" which restrict staff from working for another employer unless in direct competition and pay equity, which should see zero hours staff paid at a comparable rate to those doing similar work. Recent CIPD research has dispelled many of the zero hours’ myths that have made the headlines in recent months and we believe that changes outside those mentioned above will be limited. Whatever the future holds, BPE can provide guidance on the safest or most commercial ways of implementing zero hours’ arrangements.
2014 will also see the introduction of Tribunal powers to order Equal Pay Audits where an employer has lost a gender pay claim (October 2014).
In addition, with so much media discussion over family friendly rights, new rights are proposed to extend the eligibility for flexible working requests, the implementation date of which is still to be decided.
Finally, in a move that has so far gone under the radar, the Government have proposed to introduce funded occupational health assessments for employees off work for more than 4 weeks. Again an implementation date for such has yet to be confirmed.
With the number of proposed changes heading into the New Year, it is easy to see why employment law is seen as the fastest moving area of law in the UK.
These notes have been prepared for the purpose of an article only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.