Last year proved to be a busy one, with the Government announcing review after review of various employment laws and practices, and several changes were made to employment legislation, including; the qualifying period for unfair dismissal claims increasing to two years for new starters from April 2012, several changes to the Employment Tribunal system, the phased introduction of the Pensions Auto-Enrolment Scheme started, and law became effective immediately from July 2012 affecting all Employers in relation to auto-enrolment.

There are currently plenty of changes proposed for 2013, which are currently in consultation or are draft legislation or codes of practice. Here is a run-down of what we expect (but of course, it can change!):

  • Before March – unpaid parental leave will increase from 13 to 18 weeks (in line with the EU parental leave directive)
  • Before April – CRB (criminal records bureau) results will be available online for Employers (so that employees do not have to obtain a new check each time he/she starts a new job)
  • By April – collective redundancy consultation (for large-scale redundancies where 100 or more employees are involved) will reduce from its current 90 day minimum period to 45 days. The Government has also announced plans to legislate to make it clear that fixed term contracts which have reached the end of their natural life are excluded from obligations for collective redundancies consultation. ACAS Guidance will also be made available on collective consultation.
  • In the Summer – Employment Tribunal fees, to take a claim to Tribunal, will be introduced.  At the moment these fees are proposed to be between £160-£250 to issue a claim; a hearing fee of £230-£950, and an Employment Appeal Tribunal hearing fee of £400-£1200. Fees will vary depending on the complexity of the case. Tribunals will have the power to order the unsuccessful party to reimburse fees paid by the successful party and a fee ‘remission’ system will operate for those who cannot afford to pay (yes, we don’t know what that actually means yet!).

In addition the following changes are expected to be introduced in 2013 or be held over until 2014:

  • The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill will receive Royal Assent in 2013 and the following changes will be phased in during 2013 and 2014:
    • The Equality Act provisions that currently make employers liable for harassment of an employee by a 3rd party will be repealed
    • Pre-termination (of employment) negotiations between the employer and an employee conducted by the employer with a view to agreeing terms for ending an individual’s employment will become in-admissible in most unfair dismissal cases (except where the employer has acted ‘improperly’). This was previously called ‘protected conversations‘ but they have now been rejected by the Government as a concept in its own right, and will be replaced with new Settlement Agreements (currently called Compromise Agreements).
    • Settlement Agreements. Compromise agreements are currently used by businesses to settle employment disputes without going to Court. They are legally binding agreements made between the employer and employee where the employee agrees to leave the Company for a financial compensation but at the same time waiving their employment rights. Settlement Agreements will have a standard ‘template’ form and discussions around these agreements will not be admissible for unfair dismissal claims.  They will have a Statutory code of Practice that needs to be followed.
    • Mandatory ACAS conciliation will be introduced before employment tribunal claims, where ACAS will try to conciliate a settlement before a claim can go ahead to Tribunal.
    • Further changes to the Employment Tribunal system will be made to allow certain legal officers that are not judges to decide some tribunal claims (called ‘rapid resolution’); financial penalties to be imposed against Employers that are in breach of the employment rights of their employees in certain circumstances; and changes will be made around the awards that Tribunals can give.
    • The current Whistle-blowing legislation will be amended so that disclosures can only be made in the public interest (and cannot be related to an breaches to an individuals employment contract).
  • Amendments to the Working Time Regulations are still expected (to allow for the carry-over of untaken leave because of sickness absence – this is likely to be limited to 4 weeks leave that needs to be taken within a period of 12 months)
  • The ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Dismissals is expected to be revised, with distinctions made between disciplinary and performance procedures
  • The Government are also likely to review the Agency Workers Regulations (2010) although this it not expected before the end of 2013

And further into the future we are looking at:

  • It is expected that flexible working for all employees with children under 18 will be introduced by 2014 with a new ACAS Code of Practice (and to be extended to all employees possibly in 2015)
  • It is also expected that in 2015 flexible parental leave will be introduced. After the first two weeks of a mother’s maternity leave, the remaining 50 weeks can be shared between her and her partner. This leave can be taken in turns or by both partners at the same time, and will run for a maximum of 12 months, nine of which will be at statutory pay. This replaces the system that has been in place since April 2011, under which parents could share some leave, but this had to be taken in single blocks. The rights will be offered to parents of adopted children as well as biological parents.
  • The Government have also recently confirmed that plans to increase paternity leave have been postponed, with a review in 2018.

If you are an Employer and need ongoing professional help with any staff/freelance issues then talk to us at The HR Kiosk (click here) - a Human Resources Consultancy for small businesses – you can use our services when you need them most!

Please note that the advice given on the Workline website and by our Advisors is guidance only and cannot be taken as an authoritative or current interpretation of the law. It can also not be seen as specific advice for individual cases. Please also note that there are differences in legislation in Northern Ireland.

Photo by Jeramey Jannene