This year's Easter weekend will see a number of employment law changes, with 6 April being one of the government's two annual 'common commencement dates' for new legislation. We take a look at the key changes in employment law in store from this April.
Introduction of shared parental leave
The new system of shared parental leave and pay will be available to parents of children due to be born or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015. Eligible employees will be entitled to share a maximum of 50 weeks' leave and 37 weeks' statutory pay which can be shared between them either concurrently or consecutively. Leave maybe taken in a single block or in discontinuous blocks but must be in complete weeks. Couples who are adopting a child from outside the UK will also be able to benefit from the right to shared parental leave and pay.
Unlike statutory maternity pay (and, from 5 April, statutory adoption pay) which is payable at 90% of actual salary (with no cap) for the first six weeks, shared parental pay will be paid at the lower of 90% of normal weekly earnings for the first six weeks or the prevailing flat statutory rate.
It should be noted that shared parental leave is optional; parents do not have to take it and may decide to continue to take statutory maternity/adoption leave and ordinary paternity leave instead. Additional paternity leave will be abolished for babies due on or after 5 April 2015 (or for children placed for adoption on or after that date).
The procedural and notification requirements for shared parental leave are complex and employers should make sure they are familiar with the new regime and have new forms and policies in place before the Easter weekend.
Changes to adoption leave
5 April 2015 will also see various changes to the adoption leave and pay regime:
- the requirement for 26 weeks' service before employees become entitled to adoption leave will be abolished; adoption leave will become a 'day 1' right, like maternity leave
- the right to adoption leave and pay will be extended to individuals fostering a child under the 'Fostering for Adoption' scheme run by local authorities
- parents who have a child through a surrogacy arrangement will also become entitled to statutory adoption leave and pay in the same way as those adopting a child. This reverses current case law which appeared to present a loophole whereby surrogate parents are not entitled to any statutory family leave or pay
- statutory adoption pay will be increased to mirror statutory maternity pay so that those on statutory adoption leave will receive of 90% of their normal weekly earnings for the first six weeks followed by 33 weeks at the prevailing flat statutory rate (or the earnings-related rate, if lower)
- a new right for both single and joint adopters to attend adoption appointments will be introduced. Single adopters will be able to attend up to five paid appointments and the second person in an adopting couple may attend up to two unpaid appointments
- adopters will be protected against suffering a detriment or being dismissed in relation to exercising their rights
Unpaid parental leave
From 5 April 2015 the existing unpaid parental leave regime will also be extended to parents of children aged between five and 18. It remains the case that no more than 4 weeks' leave can be taken in any one year and leave must be taken in one-week blocks unless the child is disabled.
Statutory payment rates and employment tribunal awards
From 5 April 2015 the statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental pay rates will increase to £139.58 per week (from £138.18). On 6 April 2015 the statutory sick pay rate will also increase to £88.45 per week (from £87.55).
The limits on employment tribunal awards will rise for dismissals which take place on or after 6 April 2015. The limit on a week's pay increases to £475. This means that the maximum statutory redundancy payment and basic award in unfair dismissal cases will rise to £14,250. The maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal will go up to £78,335.
National minimum wage
From 6 April 2015 the new National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015 will come into force. This new legislation replaces and consolidates the existing regulations and subsequent amending regulations of which there have been more than 20. It is hoped this will make the legislation much more user friendly for employers (and their lawyers).
Various changes to the Immigration Rules for individuals coming to the UK from outside the EU are also set to apply from 6 April 2015. These include the waiver of the Tier 2 'cooling off period' where the period of time in the UK is three months or less, the simplification of existing rules for visitors, the update of annual minimum salary thresholds for Tier 2 and appropriate salary rates for individual occupations, and the addition of certain professions onto the shortage occupation list.
Of course, change for employers won't be confined to the Easter weekend. With the general election due to take place on 7 May further developments in employment law are inevitable. Potential developments include changes to the employment tribunal system (including tribunal fees) and a continued focus on zero hours contracts.
This document is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given.