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New Employment Law Legislation – January 2011

Does 2011 hail another year of change and confusion for small business owners?

As 2010 draws to a close we have seen another year of change in the employment law arena, and this trend is set to continue into 2011 and 2012 with the implementation of further changes that will impact on all employers, whether you have a handful of employees or several thousand. The waters have been muddied somewhat by the change in government and the uncertainty about whether planned legislation will be scrapped, amended or proceed untouched to the statute books. Key areas for employers to be aware of include:

Equality Act 2010 – consolidation or extension?

This Act was implemented in October 2010 and claimed to simplify the law in the workplace by bringing together the plethora of equality legislation that has developed over several decades. Whilst this is true to some extent, there are some changes that employers need to be aware of particularly in respect of ‘discrimination by association’ discrimination by perception’ and lastly but by no means least, the protection of disabled workers and pre employment health screening. Policies and procedures need to be reviewed in the light of this legislation to ensure that employers don’t get caught out in what can prove to be a very costly experience for them.

Paternity Rights – more time off for dads.

Plans laid by the previous government to extend paternity rights and to give fathers the opportunity to take extended periods of paternity leave have been reviewed by the government and despite rumours that they might be shelved now look like becoming law in April 2011. This will mean that existing procedures will need to be updated to include the new rights, and employers will need to consider the implications of this change for their businesses and how work will be covered during paternity leave.

Default Retirement Age – or not?

Whilst there continues to be some uncertainty about the government’s plans to abolish the default retirement age from April 2011, it now seems likely that this will happen. This means we will see a huge cultural shift in the workplace with employers no longer being able to rely on retirement as a fair dismissal. Employers should note however, that for employees who reach the age of 65 before 1st October 2011 the existing retirement arrangements will apply as part of the phasing in of the new legislation, but you will need to take action now!

Flexible Workers – time off to train?

There is still uncertainty about the government’s intention with regard to extended rights of employees to requires training. The statutory right to time off to train was introduced in April 2010 and applied only to those employers with 250+ staff. Despite government promises that this will not be extended to smaller employers in April 2011 no clear decision has yet been taken. It’s advisable for smaller employers to ensure that they have a policy in place – which can be scrapped if the government exempts the smaller employer.

Disciplinary and grievance disputes – what has changed?

We now have case law following the abolition of the statutory disputes procedures in 2009. This emphasises the need to ensure that arm’s length investigators are used to carry out investigations or adjudicate in disputes. Not always easy for very small businesses…Procedures need to clearly state how this stage of the process will be managed to reflect the particular constraints on your business.

Agency Workers Legislation

A particular blow to employers who rely on the flexibility of agency workers to meet the peaks and troughs of activity that occur in their business. This flexibility will be severely curtailed from October 2011 when the requirements change. Employers will need to prepare for this change and consider how best they can respond to the challenge that it will present for their business.

Statutory Pension Provision

We are still uncertain about how this legislation is likely to be formed, but it is clearly of concern to smaller employers who do not currently have pension provision in place. The legislation will not come into force until 2012 and then it is will be phased in for smaller employers, but nevertheless, it is time to start thinking about what you will need to put in place to ensure compliance when the time comes.

The Fit Note – you can do some work, but not everything

The new style sick certificate (the Fit Note) came into operation on 1 April 2010. In practice there appears to have been little change, although employers and employees alike have been confused by some of the changes. Employers are not required to comply with any recommendations that have been made by GP’s on the fit note, but lack of guidance and clarity have caused some difficulties. The Fit Note provisions need to be clearly explained in policies and procedures so that employers and employees alike are clear about what the changes mean.

Anti-Bribery Legislation

Prohibits the offering, the giving, the solicitation or the acceptance of any bribe, whether cash or other inducement to or from any person or company wherever they are situated by any individual employee, agent or other person or body acting on the Company’s behalf. If such an exchange can be proven to have taken place in order to gain any commercial, contractual or regulatory advantage for the business in a way which is unethical or in order to gain any personal advantage, financial or otherwise, for the individual or anyone connected with the individual you could be liable. In order to protect your business and to ensure employees are aware of this legislation, your policy needs to be clearly stated.

To take advantage of a free audit of your policies and procedures or for more information you can contact us. We would be pleased to hear from you.