Changes due under the Employment Act

Nichola
Evans from law firm Rowe Cohen outlines the main changes to workplace
legislation being introduced as part of the Employment Act from 6 April

Flexible working
From 6 April 2003

Employees with a clear responsibility for raising a child under the age of
six (or 18 if the child is disabled) will have the right to ask their employer
to seriously consider a request for more flexible working hours.

The employer must change the working hours (or give a reasonable written
explanation as to why this has not been done) within six weeks, or face the
possibility of the case being brought before an employment tribunal.

To qualify, the parent/carer must have clocked up six months’ (26 weeks)
service.

Equal pay questionnaire
From 6 April 2003

Staff will be able to serve their employer with a questionnaire to establish
whether they are in a position to make a claim under the Equal Pay Act.

They may ask for specific information about a ‘comparator’ – someone of
either sex who does, or did, the same kind of job. Employers are legally
obliged to reply within eight weeks.

The questionnaires are voluntary, but employers that ignore requests are
likely to be penalised at an employment tribunal.

Maternity
From 6 April 2003

Ordinary maternity leave will be extended from 18 to 26 weeks.

Additional maternity leave is extended from 15 to 26 weeks, running from the
end of ordinary maternity leave.

To qualify for additional maternity leave, it will only be necessary to have
worked for the six months (26 weeks) leading up to the 25th week of pregnancy.
Previously, this qualification period was one year.

The statutory maternity pay entitlement period has been extended from 18 to
26 weeks. Statutory maternity, paternity and adoptive pay will be £100 per
week.

There will also be 26 weeks paid and 26 weeks unpaid leave for adoptive
parents.

Paternity
From 6 April 2003

Under the Act, new fathers will have the option of taking one or two
consecutive weeks off as paternity leave within eight weeks (56 days) of the
birth.

To qualify for paternity leave, the employee must have clocked up six
months’ (26 weeks) service by the 25th week of the pregnancy.

Statutory paternity pay will also be £100 per week.

Union learning representatives
Expected May 2003

The Act introduces a new statutory right to paid time off for union learning
representatives (ULRs) to help them promote workplace learning.

Employers are still waiting for final guidance on the statutory rights for
ULRs, which is expected to come into force in May.

There has been concern that the statutory rights for ULRs could lead to
clashes with company training policies.

The DTI is currently correcting the ULR draft code, which is due to go
before the House of Commons tomorrow (2 April), and before the House of Lords
on 9 April.

Grievances and discipline
Expected April 2004

The final decision is still pending, but it is expected that from spring
next year, new rules will come into effect encouraging employers and staff to
resolve workplace disputes without resorting to litigation, using internal
grievance procedures.

Employment tribunals will take into account failure by either party to use
internal procedures when making decisions.

The Department for Trade and Industry is also expected to introduce minimum
standards for disciplinary and grievance procedures that employers must meet,
which will be included in employees’ contracts.

In the meantime, to avoid the eventual risk of being deemed unfair when
dismissing an employee, it is advisable to include details and descriptions of
disciplinary procedures and grievance channels in all staff contracts of
employment.

Feedback from the profession on the impact of the employment act

Janice Cook, HR director, NCH

"The key things for us are the flexible working
provisions. Two-thirds of our employees are part-time, so we already have most
of the facilities in place to let staff choose different working hours.

"The Government hasn’t gone far enough on paternity leave,
and I don’t think it has done enough to help working parents."

Clare Smith, HR director, Leonard
Cheshire

"Generally speaking, the voluntary sector will find there
will be relatively little impact. We have been offering flexible working and
family-friendly hours for a long time now.

"We are ahead of the legislation to a certain extent, and
try to be as flexible as possible. However, because of the specific rules, we
are writing a handbook for managers on how to deal with the Act.

"It can be open to very wide interpretation, and good
employers will go with the spirit of the laws, whereas bad employers will stick
to the letter and carry on as they are.

"Equal pay questionnaires are long and confusing, and will
be difficult for the majority of employees to understand. I’m extremely
concerned about confidentiality, and would only reveal an individual’s earnings
under extreme circumstances.

"We are also very disappointed that people who care for
elderly or disabled relatives are not included."

Lesley Cotton, director of
personnel and development at retailer Morgan

"We are carrying out training for line managers to help
raise awareness of the changes. These managers take the requests, so it is
essential that they are up-skilled.

"I think the legislation just formalises the process that
many large companies already have in place. If it’s right for the individual
and the employer then it makes sense, but if it isn’t, employers can refuse.

"I think it will take away the fear of asking, and HR
should see this as a positive move."

Paul Pagliari, HR director, Scottish Water

"We already have a number of staff working flexibly. It
makes good business sense, so we are happy to listen to requests from other
workers.

"Equal pay questionnaires could be more difficult because
we have merged three water authorities into one organisation, but we are
currently working on a system to review pay across the group.

"The bureaucratic burden always seems to be on the
employer, which could be expensive and time-consuming. The measures are
advantageous, but there is a cost."

Caroline Wilson, HR director,
Eversheds

"Because our workforce is 65 per cent female, we have to
make sure we are really family-friendly. We already invite staff to request
changes to the way they work and have had around 50 applications in the past
six months, 90 per cent of which have been approved.

"I think most employers will get to grips with this and
realise it makes good business sense."

Ed Hildebrandt, personnel manager,
Panasonic business systems UK

"We have been developing a flexible working policy for a
while now to ensure we meet the requirements. It won’t be a huge change because
we already offer a range of flexible policies, such as job sharing, term-time
hours and homeworking.

"The challenge for HR will be getting buy-in from line
managers and getting them to think if jobs can be done better in a different
way.

"The legislation will put a structure around flexibility,
but I think the business case is the strongest motivator.

"My concern is that it might raise the expectations of
some people, because employers can refuse requests if the business case isn’t
strong enough."

Debbie McCallion, HR director for
North West Europe, Intentia

"The only concern I have is that it [the right for parents
to request flexible working] will start to over-formalise the process too much.
Good employers already allow flexibility, and I wouldn’t want this to become
too bureaucratic.

"We have been happy to consider requests for the past few
years, so we do feel prepared. It is a very positive thing, because if people
have a better balance at work, they perform better.

"My fear is that employers might not respond properly and
lose tribunals because they have considered it fairly, but not followed the
exact procedure."

Martin Hinchliffe, HR director,
Welcome Break

"Some sectors will find it easier than others to implement
and we are pretty fortunate in that we are a 24-hour company.

"I think that it will lead to more tribunals as there will
be pinch-points for many organisations."

Comments are closed.