Red tape round-up: What will the latest employment legislation cost you?

Friday (6 April) sees the latest round of employment law changes introduced into the workplace. Inevitably, the changes mean there will be more work for HR departments, particularly in public sector organisations.

Personnel Today outlines some of the new duties that will be placed on UK employers, with expert comments on their impact and our special ‘red-tape impact’ rating.

Flexible working

The right to request flexible working – previously only linked to childcare – will be extended to employees who care for spouses, parents or partners. An estimated 2.7 million carers should benefit, but charities are calling on employers to give this right to all staff with caring responsibilities.

“Although an employer still has the right to turn down such applications if it can show the appropriate business reason, it will add to the mounting pressure on businesses to be more open-minded about flexible working opportunities,” said Danielle Kingdon, employment partner at law firm Osborne Clarke.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has warned of a backlash if organisations don’t allow all staff to work flexibly, with some employees resenting the privileges given to parents and carers.

A change in government is unlikely to signal an extension to the right to request flexible working. Last week, Conservative leader David Cameron argued that more regulation would be counter-productive and would “crush local best practice”.

But if – by some miracle – the Liberal Democrats gain power, parents of any age should benefit from flexible working. The party has launched a Flexible Working Bill, which received its first reading in the House of Commons last week. “Fears that flexible working rights will damage business are unwarranted,” a party spokeswoman said.

Red-tape rating: Two out of three

Increase in maternity rights

The Work and Families Act applies in respect of parents (natural or adoptive) of babies where the expected week of childbirth falls on or after 1 April 2007. Its main effects are:

  • An increase in statutory maternity and adoption pay
  • Additional maternity leave will be available to all employees, regardless of length of service
  • Employers to be given more notice of a return to work.

Employers are now allowed to keep ‘reasonable contact’ with the employee on leave. Until now, if a woman worked during her leave, even for just one day, it would technically trigger the end of her maternity leave. Under the new rules, women will be able to work for up to 10 days – so-called ‘keeping in touch’ days.

Andrea Nicholls, partner at law firm Salans, said: “Until now, the question of whether to contact staff on maternity leave has been fraught. Either the employer is blamed for not keeping in touch, or that by doing so, they were harassing or putting pressure on the employee. The new laws make it clear that the employer does have the right to contact staff on maternity leave.”

Red-tape rating: Two out of three

Gender Equality Duty

This places a duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity between men and women within the public sector workplace and when exercising public services.

In practice, this means employers will have to identify gender equality goals, show the action they are taking to implement them, publish and monitor these goals, and review them every three years.

Richard Linskell, employment lawyer at law firm Dawsons, said the duty built on existing equal pay and sex discrimination legislation. “But rather than wait for claims to be made, employers will need to investigate proactively, and take action to correct any inequalities,” he warned.

Red-tape rating: Three out of three

Also in force this month:

Smoking bans

A smoking ban in public places (including workplaces) comes into force in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Red-tape rating: One out of three

Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations

These regulations have been extended to cover organisations with 100 or more staff.

Red-tape rating: One out of three

Occupational and Personal Pension Schemes Regulations

These impose consultation duties on employers with more than 100 staff in respect of significant changes.

Red-tape rating: Two out of three

Rating key

One out of three: A snip for business

Two out of three: Needs some trimming

Three out of three: Hard to make the cut

Comments are closed.