The government has unveiled the detail of its proposed policies and legislation programme, a number of which will have an impact on employers. We look at what is in store for UK businesses in the next 12 months.
Health and Work Service
On 13 June 2014 the government published 'Fuller Working Lives - A Framework for Action' which outlines a number of initiatives to help the ageing workforce stay in or return to employment. In particular, a new 'Health and Work Service' will be introduced in late 2014 where GPs will refer employees to the service for an assessment by an occupational health professional after they have been on sick-related absence for four weeks. It will also provide employers, employees and GPs with access to independent and objective online and telephone advice on issues preventing a sustained return to work and on how to prevent sickness absence from occurring.
Equal Pay Audits
The draft Equality Act 2010 (Equal Pay Audits) Regulations 2014 were published on 19 June 2014. These will oblige employment tribunals to order employers who have been found in breach of equal pay law under the Equality Act 2010 to carry out equal pay audits. The government intends the regulations to take effect on 1 October 2014 in respect of equal pay claims presented on or after that date.
Children and Families Act 2014
From 1 October 2014 fathers and partners will be able to take unpaid time off to attend up to two ante-natal appointments, each of up to a maximum of six and a half hours. Employees will be protected from detriment and dismissal as a result of exercising these rights. Employees will be entitled, in certain circumstances, to bring a tribunal claim if their employer refuses the time off or refuses to pay them for the time off.
Further changes affecting families are also scheduled to take place in 2015, in particular the forthcoming right to shared parental leave for children born or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015.
Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill
Under the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, published on 25 June, the government has confirmed its intention to:
- Tackle abuse of the National Minimum Wage legislation by increasing the penalty awarded against employers who fail to pay the National Minimum Wage to £20,000 per employee rather than £20,000 in total as is currently the case
- Crack down on abuse of Zero Hours contracts. In particular, Vince Cable has announced plans to ban exclusivity clauses which prevent an individual from working for another employer, even when no work is guaranteed in zero-hour contracts. The government says it intends to consult further on how to prevent evasion of the ban
- Stop highly paid public sector employees keeping redundancy payments when they come back to the same part of the public sector within a short period of time
- Reduce costly delays in Employment Tribunal proceedings by limiting the number of postponements available to a party and introducing an obligation on the Tribunal to consider making a costs award if the postponement application is a late one
- Introduce a new system for enforcing tribunal awards, so that an 'enforcement officer' will give a 28-day warning notice if an Employment Tribunal award remains unpaid. If the monies are not then paid by the Respondent, a 'penalty notice' will be issued. The penalty is 50% of the outstanding amount, subject to a minimum of £100 and a maximum of £5,000. If the full sum and the penalty are then paid within 14 days, the penalty is reduced by 50%. The penalty is payable to the Secretary of State, not the Claimant
Childcare Payments Bills
This Bill will introduce a new scheme to support working families by giving support equivalent to basic rate tax relief on money spent on childcare, up to a maximum of £2,000 per year for each child. The intention is that the new scheme will be launched in autumn 2015 and rolled out to eligible families with children under 12 within the first year that the scheme is operational.
The scheme will repeal the existing employer-supported childcare system that provides financial assistance for parents with their childcare costs through salary sacrifice. This is currently operated on a voluntary basis by employers and is therefore not available to the self employed or those on minimum wage.
The government also proposes reform of apprenticeships to make them more rigorous and responsive to the needs of employers. In particular, the government intends to increase the total number of apprenticeship places to two million by the end of the parliament and to prioritise the growth of higher apprenticeships (degree level apprenticeships).