Consultations on key employment proposals seeking views
The Government is currently consulting on a number of key employment proposals, following the publication of its Good Work Plan in 2018.
Extending redundancy protections for new parents and expectant mothers
Pregnancy and maternity discrimination are unlawful under the Equality Act 2010, and those on maternity leave have special protection in a redundancy situation. However, this protection currently does not extend to women who have returned to work after their maternity leave has ended. One in nine women claim they were dismissed or made redundant upon their return to work after maternity leave, or were treated in such a way that they felt forced out of their job.
A consultation seeking views on extending redundancy protection for new parents and expectant mothers concluded in April this year.
The government has committed to:
- Ensuring the redundancy protection period applies from the point the employee informs the employer that she is pregnant, whether orally or in writing;
- Extending the redundancy protection period by six months once a new mother has returned to work; and
- Extending redundancy protection into a period of return to work for those taking adoption and shared parental leave.
No timescale has been provided for bringing these changes into law yet.
Parental leave and neonatal pay
Currently, the UK’s two-week statutory parental leave period means many fathers return to work while a premature baby is still in hospital – leading to 36% of fathers and partners taking sick leave while their baby is in neonatal care.
The Government’s consultation seeks comments on a wide range of issues related to parental leave including entitling parents of premature babies to one week of paid leave for every week their baby is in hospital. The consultation also looks into whether companies should be required to publish their parental leave and pay policies and whether they offer flexible working. The consultation closes on 29 November 2019.
Stronger sexual harassment protection
In response to #MeToo, the government announced plans to introduce new legislation to prohibit the use of confidentiality clauses to prevent individuals from disclosing information to the police, health workers or professional advisers such as doctors, lawyers and social workers.
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or confidentiality clauses are often used by employers in contracts of employment and settlement agreements for legitimate purposes, such as protecting trade secrets and information about a company’s clients. However, in recent years there have been numerous examples of these agreements being abused by employers to prevent employees or former employees from revealing incidents of bullying and sexual harassment.
A separate consultation has been launched by the government’s Equalities Office, seeking views on whether it should introduce a new duty on employers to prevent staff from being sexually harassed at work. In particular, it asks whether existing legal protections for employees and workers should be extended to volunteers and interns, whether the time limit for bringing a sexual harassment claim in an employment tribunal should be extended and whether a previously repealed law which made employers liable for harassment of their employees by a third party (such as customers) should be reinstated. The consultation closes on 2 October 2019.
Improving protection for sick employees
A consultation entitled “Health is everyone’s business: Proposals to reduce ill health-related job loss,” has been launched, seeking views on different ways in which the government and employers can take action to help disabled people and people with health conditions stay in work.
The proposals include giving employees with health conditions the right to request workplace adjustments on health grounds, entitling employees returning from a period of sickness absence to a flexible, phased return to work funded partly through their statutory sick pay (SSP) entitlement and partly through their usual wages and fining organisations that do not pay staff the SSP they are entitled to. The consultation closes on 7 October 2019.
Measures to address one-sided flexibility
One-sided flexibility arises where a worker has no guarantee of work, but is expected to be available at very short notice when required.
The government is seeking views on introducing a right to reasonable notice of work schedules, how this should be recorded and whether there should be a penalty for non-compliance. It also seeks views on the extent of the current problem of shifts being cancelled or reduced at short notice and what level of compensation should be given to workers where last minute changes are made. The consultation confirms the government’s intention to introduce a right for all workers to switch to a more predictable work pattern. The consultation closes on 11 October.
More details on all of these consultations can be found at www.shoosmiths.co.uk/client-resources/legal-updates/employment-law-plans-in-the-pipeline.aspx.