April is always a busy month for employment regulations and this year is no exception. Five different pieces of legislation were introduced on 6 April and, unsurprisingly, employee rights are at the forefront. No doubt industrious HR practitioners will have been busy updating and changing all the relevant policies.
For starters, the Information and Consultation procedures and consultations on Occupational and Personal Pension schemes have been extended to include employers with 50 or more staff. Changes to the regulations protecting agency workers have also just come into force. Agency workers now have the right to withdraw from any additional job-related services, such as housing programmes, without losing the right to work for the employment agency. And if that wasn’t enough, the controversial Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act has finally been implemented after years of speculation.
But the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) are perhaps the most significant to employers. The Act now covers harassment by third parties, such as customers and suppliers, so that employers have a stronger duty of care to protect staff. In practice, this means employers will have to have clear procedures in place to deal with any complaints from third parties and ensure all line managers are fully aware of the regulations. One other feature of the Act is the amended terminology which previously referred to harassment “on the grounds” of a person’s sex but now only has to be “related to” a person’s sex. This could mean that any comments which were previously considered to be harmless banter could now be potentially damaging. And that could have serious implications for all employers.
Georgina Fuller, consultant editor