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  • Lee Calver
  • 8 April 2014
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Key changes to employment legislation now in force

In April and October each year, the Government brings into force legislation on what is known as a Common Commencement Date. As of 6 April 2014, employers need to be aware of a whole host of important changes to UK employment law.

New Employment Tribunal laws

New rules aimed at reducing the number of Employment Tribunals have now come into force. Employees who would like to bring a case of unfair dismissal or discrimination are now required to first notify the conciliation service, ACAS, to see if the dispute can be resolved.

ACAS will then offer early conciliation to the parties for a period of one month, although this can be extended by up to 14 days by agreement. The time limit for bringing the claim will be put on hold while early conciliation is attempted.

If either party refuses conciliation or conciliation fails to reach a settlement, the claimant will be able to issue the claim in the Employment Tribunal. Employers should note that early conciliation will be available on a voluntary basis as of 6 April, but any claims issued on or after 6 May 2014 will have to go through ACAS first.

Commenting, Workplace Law HR Consultant, Heidi Thompson, said:

“It remains to be seen how successful this method will be, though we have certainly seen a drop in Tribunal claims since the introduction of claimant fees. This change therefore hopes to enable more informal resolution and to continue to reduce the need for Tribunal hearings.”

Discrimination questionnaires

The statutory discrimination questionnaire procedure has now been abolished. Previously, this procedure allowed employees who believe they may have been discriminated against to submit a formal questionnaire to their employer before they bring an Employment Tribunal claim (or within three weeks of bringing a claim).

Explaining her views on this change, Heidi Thompson commented:

“This was previously very time-consuming for employers and if they refused to comply, the Tribunal could draw an adverse inference from this.

“It’s not necessarily all good news however, as employees can still ask questions of the employer and again, if the employer refuses, this may count against them in any subsequent discrimination claim.”

Heidi added:

“On this basis, we would advise employers to continue to respond to these questions, unless you have a good reason not to. ACAS has produced guidance on how employees should go about asking questions and how employers should respond to them.”

Employment Tribunal penalties

On top of any compensation awarded, as of 6 April 2014, Employment Tribunals will also have a discretionary power to impose financial penalties on employers who lose a claim.

The penalty will be set at half of the total compensation award made by the Tribunal, subject to a minimum of £100 and a maximum of £5,000. This penalty will be payable to the Government and will be reduced by 50% if paid within 21 days. 

Heidi comments:

“It is not yet clear when Tribunals will order penalties, but the Government has suggested there would need to be some “unreasonable behaviour” such as “negligence or malice” on the employer’s part.”

Changes to statutory sick pay, maternity and redundancy pay

As of 6 April, the statutory sick pay rate has increased to £87.55 from £86.70, while maternity pay, ordinary, additional paternity and adoption pay increases from £136.78 to £138.18. Furthermore, the maximum amount of a week’s pay for calculating statutory redundancy pay will also change to £464 from £450 and the new maximum redundancy payment will be £13,920.

Employers should also note that the DWP has abolished the statutory sick pay (SSP) percentage threshold scheme (PTS), but employers will still be able to make claims for reimbursement of SSP (paid for sickness periods up to 5 April 2014) under PTS until the end of the 2015/16 tax year.

SSP record-keeping has now also been abolished.  Employers will, however, still be required to maintain records for PAYE purposes and to show they are meeting their SSP obligations.

The PTS has been stopped because an independent review of sickness absence stated that it has not encouraged employers to manage sickness absence in the workplace.

Due to these findings, the Government has decided to put an end to the scheme and reinvest the money in the new Health and Work Service, which is expected to be available in some locations from late 2014, although a full national service is not expected until April 2015.

The Government has revealed that the new service aims to provide an alternative form of support that will help employers by getting employees who have been on sick leave back in the office sooner.

As well as these changes which are now in force, employers also need to have knowledge of what they face in the coming months, with changes to flexible working and parental leave imminent.

Flexible working

From 30 June 2014, all employees will be given the right to request flexible working when they have 26 weeks continuous service – currently this is only available to some parents and those with dependants. In preparation for these changes, Heidi advises employers to look at the new guidance ACAS has produced for employers to manage these requests. Heidi adds that employers should be ready to revise their current policies to ensure they meet these upcoming changes.

Parental leave

Shared parental leave is due to be introduced in April 2015 and is designed to allow parents to share care for the child in the first year from the date of the child's birth.

Mothers will still take at least the initial two weeks following the birth, but after that, mothers can choose to end the maternity leave and the parents can opt to share the remaining leave as flexible parental leave.

As we all know, employment law is constantly changing and being modified, which is why it is so crucial that employers are aware of what is happening and keep abreast of the regular updates to legislation.

Workplace Law’s Facilities Management Legal Update provides you with the information you require, and although our next one-day event is now sold out, we have scheduled another FMLU to be held on Wednesday 28 May. To find out more, please click here.