March 2012 employment law: what employers need to do

March is always one of the busiest months for employers, with the regular round of April employment law changes fast approaching. Here, XpertHR senior employment law editor Stephen Simpson explains why 1 April 2012 is an important date for employers and why they should be getting ready now for pensions auto-enrolment.

1. Prepare for pensions auto-enrolment and review the number of people in your PAYE scheme in advance of 1 April 2012, which will determine when your auto-enrolment obligations begin.

Legislation is being phased in from 1 October 2012 (which is the first staging date for the largest employers) requiring employers to enrol eligible jobholders automatically and make mandatory employer contributions to a qualifying workplace pension scheme.

The staging date for each employer is based on the number of people in its PAYE scheme on 1 April 2012, making this an important date for employers preparing for auto-enrolment.

It is important for employers to note that, even if the number of people in their PAYE scheme changes between 1 April 2012 and their staging date, the staging date stays the same, even if the change is significant.

In March 2012, employers should check how many people they have in their PAYE scheme, so that they can ascertain their staging date and begin planning for pensions auto-enrolment.

2. Ensure that payroll systems and policies and procedures are updated to reflect the increase in statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay, and statutory sick pay, as well as national insurance and income tax rates.

Employers need to prepare for the annual increase in statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay. The rates increase from £128.73 to £135.45 per week from 1 April 2012.

The standard rate of statutory sick pay increases from £81.60 to £85.85 per week on 6 April 2012.

Employers should also prepare their payroll systems for changes to national insurance and income tax rates and thresholds for 2012/13, which come into force on 6 April 2012.

Employers may also wish to highlight 21 March in their diaries, when Chancellor George Osborne is delivering the 2012 Budget. He may announce, among other things, the rates of the national minimum wage that will apply from 1 October 2012.

3. Prepare to answer questions from the workforce on the April bank holidays

Employers always face questions from staff about their bank holiday entitlement and may encounter issues from particular individuals or groups, for example part-time workers or employees who are not entitled to take time off on bank holidays under their contract of employment.

The bank holidays in April are 6 April (Good Friday) and 9 April (Easter Monday), and the May bank holiday is on 7 May. There is an additional bank holiday in Northern Ireland on 19 March to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, which falls on Saturday 17 March.

Full details of all the employment law changes in April 2012 are available in the XpertHR legal timetable and HR calendar.