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Employment Law: What’s new for autumn 2014?

Sep 10, 2014

Regular readers and employment law aficionados will know that 1st April and 1st October tend to be the annual dates on which the government makes changes to the law.  This post looks at what’s expected between now and Christmas.

Changes on 1st October 2014

  1.  Time off for partners to attend antenatal appointments.

An employee or agency worker who has a “qualifying relationship” with a pregnant woman or her expected child will be entitled to take time off from work to accompany the woman at up to two antenatal appointments.

The right is to unpaid time off, unless there is an obligation to pay under the terms of the employee’s contract or you are feeling generous and want to make a discretionary payment.

The time off is for up to six and half hours on both occasions. There is no qualifying period for employees, so a request can be made from day one of their employment.

It is possible for employers to refuse a request where it is reasonable to do so.  But at present there is no guidance on when a refusal might be reasonable!

If an employee complains that their request has been unreasonably refused they can claim compensation equal to twice the hourly rate for the time they had asked to take off. This means that the maximum liability for saying no is going to be about four days’ pay.
 

  1.  Increases to National Minimum Wage

For workers aged 21 and over it will increase from £6.31 to £6.50 per hour.

Workers aged between 18 and 20 will be entitled to £5.13 and it will be £3.79 for those under 18.

Apprentices will get at least £2.73 per hour.
 

  1.  Employment Tribunals to have the power to order equal pay audits

In respect of equal pay claims lodged on or after 1st October 2014, the Tribunal will be able to order a business to conduct an equal pay audit.  Where a business is in breach of gender discrimination law on pay, it could find itself having to audit the wages of all its employees – on top of having to pay compensation to any employees who have successfully claimed.
 

Beyond October 2014 – The Health and Work Service

At the end of July the government announced the timetable for introducing the new Health and Work Service (H&WS).  It is expected to be launched at the end of this year to the North of England, the Midlands and Wales, then nationally by April 2015.

Employees who are off sick for more than four weeks will be referred to the H&WS by their GP – or the employer can make the referral if the GP does not.  The service is expected to provide:

  • An occupational health assessment.
     

This will be done by internet/phone and it looks like there will be little input from the employer.

  • A case manager to support each employee through the assessment process to ensure their needs are correctly identified along with appropriate steps to get them back to work.
  • More general health and work advice for GPs, employers and employees to be delivered via internet/phone.
  • A return to work plan that will be shared with the employer and GP.
  • A tax exemption of up to £500 a year for each employee on payments for medical treatments recommended by the H&WS, or an employer-arranged occupational health service.
     

The service is being run by a company called Health Management Limited in England and Wales.  A similar service will run in Scotland.

It will remain to be seen how useful the reports will be to a business.  Some have pointed out that it will be of more use to smaller employers who would not normally have access to occupational health professionals.  There are also concerns over how well-funded the service will be and the lack of a physical consultation may lead to inaccurate reports.

However, all employers are under an obligation to ascertain the true medical position of employees who are absent due to illness.  A report from the H&WS should help paint a fuller picture so that managers can make decisions about phased returns to work, reasonable adjustments, warnings or even dismissal.

If you would like advice on the issues listed above, or indeed any other area of employment law, please contact one of the team on 020 7234 0200 or employment@waterfrontsolicitors.com