Last year saw the introduction of a plethora of UK employment law changes, many of which were designed to simplify employment law and reduce “red-tape” for employers. Below, we summarise these changes, future changes and the implications for brand businesses.

 Changes during 2013

  • Unfair Dismissal. The compensatory award an Employment Tribunal may order for an employee bringing an unfair dismissal claim is now capped at the lesser of 12 months’ pay or £74,200. 
  • Harassment. The specific provision regarding employer liability for third party harassment to an employee has been removed from the Equality Act 2010. Despite this repeal, an employee might still argue that an employer’s inaction in the face of third party harassment amounted to an unlawful act, so employers need to remain alert to potential claims.
  • Whistleblowers. An employer may now be liable where a worker is subjected to detriment by another worker having made a protected disclosure. The requirement that disclosures be made in “good faith” has been removed, but where a whistleblower does not make a disclosure in good faith, compensation may be reduced by 25%.
  • Parental Leave. Entitlement to unpaid, parental leave increased from 13 weeks to 18 weeks. An employee will be entitled to take 18 weeks leave up to the 5th birthday of their child (or 18th birthday/ 5th anniversary of their adoption for adopted children). The limit on how much parental leave can be taken a year is 4 weeks, unless an employer agrees otherwise.
  • Collective Redundancies. Where 100 or more redundancies are planned at one establishment within a 90 day period, the minimum period during which employers must consult with employees and/or their representatives has been reduced from 90 days to 45 days.
  • Portable Criminal Records Checks. The Disclosure and Barring Service (“DBS”) launched its new system, which enables job applicants to re-use their DBS certificate when applying for similar roles. This should reduce administrative burdens on both employers and job applicants. 

 Changes expected in 2014

  •  Business Transfers. Legislation to be introduced in January 2014 regarding the automatic transfer of employees on the change of a service provider will clarify the concept of “service provision change”. In order for there to be an automatic transfer of employees when services are outsourced or brought in-house, activities carried on after this service provision change will have to be “fundamentally or essentially the same” as those carried on before it. It is hoped this will bring some clarity to an area of law that has proved difficult for employers to navigate.
  • Discrimination. Statutory discrimination questionnaires are due to be abolished from April. Rules are to be introduced allowing Tribunals to order employers that lose equal pay or pay-related sex discrimination cases to undertake an “Equal Pay Audit”.
  • Mandatory Early Conciliation. From 6 April, there will be a duty on employers and employees to attempt conciliation (although no obligation to reach an agreement) before an Employment Tribunal claim is submitted. This mandatory conciliation requirement is intended to reduce the number of employment disputes reaching full hearings.
  • Employment Tribunal Financial Penalties. Employment Tribunals will be given the power to fine an employer up to £5,000 if they lose a case which has “aggravating features.” Whether there are aggravating features will depend, among other factors, on the employer’s particular circumstances (although we will have to wait to see how Employment Tribunals interpret this). Such penalties make it all the more necessary for employers to tread carefully when dealing with potential claims.
  • Flexible Working. Flexible working rights currently afforded to employees qualifying as parents or carers will be extended to all employees with 26 weeks’ service. This will impact how brands employers respond to requests from employees for flexible working arrangements.  

Aside from these legislative changes, there are also several consultations in the pipeline, including consultations on reformation of law surrounding sickness absence, apprenticeships, agency workers, annual leave and shared parental leave. We will, of course, keep you posted on reforms relevant to employers in the brands business.