Autumn 2015 employment law changes

Posted by Ruth Christy on
A number of employment law changes come into force on 1 October, and we also take a look at some recently in force.

This Autumn brings a few employment law changes (though not nearly as many as last April!) – some of which take place on the 1 October (one of the common commencement dates).

Fit for Work fully operational

On 22 July the Fit for Work service roll-out was completed nationally and the service is now fully up and running. Additionally, as of 8 September employers can now refer employees directly to the service, if the employee's GP has not already done so, after an absence of 4 weeks. Whether it is the employer or the GP who makes the referral to the service, they must consider it reasonably likely that the employee will make at least a phased return to work. Employers who want to make a referral can do so using online forms on the Fit for work website. Whilst the effectiveness of the Fit for Work service is yet to be established, an employer's ability to refer the employee directly could be an important tool, especially since research suggests many GPs are not convinced they will use the service (which also depends on the employee's consent). Guidance from the Department for Work and Pensions on the Fit for Work service for employers is available here.

1 October changes

  • As is usual on 1 October, the National Minimum Wage (NMW) rates increase as follows: Adult rate increases from £6.50 per hour to £6.70 per hour; Development rate (18-20 year-olds) increases from £5.13 to £5.30 per hour, Youth rate (16-17 year-olds) increases from £3.79 per hour to £3.87 per hour, Apprentice rate (under 19 or in the first year of apprenticeship) increases significantly from £2.73 per hour to £3.30 per hour.    Whilst these changes are important, employers will no doubt be more keenly aware of the new National Living Wage (NLW) due to be introduced in just six months' time, from April 2016. A recent survey by a recruitment firm has suggested that in light of the forthcoming NLW, businesses are putting recruitment plans on hold. The NLW will be introduced effectively as a new rate of the NMW, initially set at £7.20 and only applying to workers aged 25 and over. The principles which apply to the NMW will also apply to the NLW. The Government has also announced plans to double penalties for failure to comply with the NMW and NLW to 200% of any arrears as well as increasing HMRC enforcement resources and ensuring that anyone found guilty of deliberate non-compliance could be disqualified as a company director for up to 15 years.
  • From 1 October, drivers in England will be banned from smoking in private cars if they are carrying a passenger who is under 18. Failure to comply could result in a penalty notice although Tim Williamson, one of Blake Morgan's motoring law specialists, foresees difficulty in police enforcement of the new law with the rise in e-cigarettes. A similar ban has already been introduced in Wales, and Scotland is also introducing such a ban. Pool cars and company cars used mainly for work purposes are already covered by the vehicle smoking ban and many companies may already operate a total ban even for private use company cars. The ban will now also apply in company cars which are used mainly for the worker's private purposes where the worker is carrying a passenger under 18, although there is no duty to display the smoke-free signs (unlike other pool or company cars). Employers should check and if necessary amend Company Car and Smoking policies.
  • Under the Deregulation Act 2015, an Employment Tribunal (ET) can no longer make 'recommendations', in respect of an employer's wider workforce, to take steps to remove or reduce the adverse effect of discrimination which has been the subject of an ET claim brought on or after 1 October 2015. Such a 'recommendation' may now only be made in respect of the person who brought the claim. In practice, wider recommendations were rarely made by ETs.
  • From 1 October Sikhs cannot be compelled to wear safety helmets in workplaces provided they are wearing a turban. Until now, under special provisions Sikhs have been exempt from wearing safety helmets on construction sites. From 1 October this is extended to all workplaces, with the exception of the armed forces and those involved in responding to fire, riots or other hazardous situations if wearing a safety helmet is necessary to protect them from risk of injury or is for related training.

Modern slavery statements

Whilst it is not clear how much HR teams will have to do with this new area of law, it is important that it does not go under the radar for employers. s54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires commercial organisations with a turnover of £36 million or more to publish a 'slavery and human trafficking statement' on their website each financial year. Although no specific date has been set yet, the Government has announced that this will come into force this October. Please see our separate article on this for further details

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Ruth provides guidance for clients and keeps them up to date with the fast pace of change in employment law.

Ruth Christy
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