Changes to employment law and practice are normally implemented in either April or October in order to make life easier for employers, who must ensure that their policies and procedures comply by the implementation dates. The Collective Redundancies and Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 were an exception to this rule, as this legislation came into force on 31 January 2014. The Regulations amend the provisions relating to collective redundancies in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA) and make various changes to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE).
For example, TULRCA is amended to allow a transferee employer who is proposing to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees at one establishment within a period of 90 days to elect to begin consulting representatives of affected employees, including transferring employees, about the proposed dismissals before the transfer takes place, provided the transferor agrees to it and is given written notice of the transferee’s intention.
Another change is that there is now a limit of one year during which collective agreements negotiated prior to a TUPE transfer will continue to bind transferee employers. After that time, terms of employment will be able to be renegotiated provided the new terms are no less favourable to employees than those which applied immediately before the variation.
The Regulations also extend the minimum time period for complying with the rules regarding the provision of employee liability information from 14 to 28 days prior to the date of a TUPE transfer where this takes place on or after 1 May 2014. In addition, businesses with fewer than ten employees will be allowed to inform and consult directly employees affected by the transfer when there is neither a recognised independent trade union in place nor any existing appropriate representatives. This exception applies in respect of transfers which take place on or after 31 July 2014.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has published a guide to the TUPE Regulations as amended and this includes a full list of the changes.
The main employment law changes scheduled for introduction in April 2014 are:
From 1 April 2014, the joining window for employers to auto-enrol eligible workers into a qualifying pension scheme is extended from one month to six weeks. In addition, the Employers’ Duties (Registration and Compliance) Regulations 2010 are amended to extend the deadline for registering details with the Pensions Regulator from four months to five months and the re-registration deadline from one month to two months.
Financial Penalties for Employers Who Breach Employment Law
From 6 April 2014, an Employment Tribunal (ET) will have the discretionary power to impose a financial penalty on an employer who is found to have breached a worker’s employment law rights where the breach has one or more aggravating features. The penalty will be 50 per cent of any financial award, with a minimum penalty of £100 and a maximum of £5,000. The sum payable will be reduced by 50 per cent if the penalty is paid within 21 days.
Acas Early Conciliation
Under the Employment Tribunals (Early Conciliation: Exemptions and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2014, those wishing to bring an ET claim from 6 April 2014 will first have to send details of their dispute to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), which will offer the parties the opportunity to settle the matter through a new, free service called Early Conciliation. If the offer is refused or the attempt at conciliation fails, the claimant will be able to proceed with their claim.
On 6 April 2014, the statutory discrimination questionnaire procedure is abolished and replaced with non-statutory guidance from Acas, 'Asking and responding to questions of discrimination in the workplace'.
Statutory Pay Rate Increases
The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that the rate of Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Adoption Pay will increase from £136.78 to £138.18 for payment weeks commencing on or after 6 April 2014. In addition, the rate of Statutory Sick Pay will increase from £86.70 to £87.55.
Also, the date for implementation of any annual inflation-linked changes to ET awards, including the rates for redundancy pay, has been changed from 1 February to 6 April. The rates that will apply where the event which triggers the claim falls on or after 6 April 2014 can be found in the Employment Rights (Increase of Limits) Order 2014.
From 30 June 2014 (not 6 April as originally planned), the right to request flexible working arrangements will be extended to all employees who have completed 26 weeks’ qualifying service. The current statutory procedure will be repealed and replaced with non-statutory guidance, produced by Acas, giving practical examples to help businesses manage the new extended right. The right currently applies to employees who have children under the age of 17 (18 if the child is disabled) or those who have caring responsibilities.
The main employment law changes due to be introduced in October 2014 are:
National Minimum Wage Rates
The National Minimum Wage (NMW) rates are reviewed annually and any changes introduced on 1 October. The rates that will apply from 1 October 2014 are as follows:
- the adult NMW rate will increase from £6.31 to £6.50 per hour;
- the NMW rate for workers aged 18 to 20 will increase from £5.03 to £5.13 per hour;
- the NMW rate for 16- and 17-year-olds will increase from £3.72 to £3.79 per hour; and
- the apprentice rate of the NMW, which applies to apprentices under 19 or over 19 and in the first year of their apprenticeship, will increase from £2.68 to £2.73 per hour.
Equal Pay Audits
The Government plans to introduce regulations requiring an ET to order an equal pay audit in the specific circumstance where an employer is found to be in clear breach of equal pay law.
The Health and Work Service
The Government has announced its intention to introduce a new Health and Work Service, offering free occupational health assistance to employees, employers and GPs, in late 2014. Once an employee has reached, or is expected to reach, four weeks' sickness absence, he or she will normally be referred by their GP for an assessment by an occupational health professional, who will look at all the issues preventing the employee from returning to work and provide them with a plan to try to expedite their return.