More employment law changes in place today

Posted by Debra Gers on
Summer 2013 saw numerous employment law developments including changes to the Employment Tribunal Rules and the introduction of fees for commencing Employment Tribunal claims (see employment bulletin no 60 for more details).

Further changes take place today, 1 October 2013, one of which has had surprisingly little publicity to date.

National Minimum Wage

The first change relates to the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and from today the increases in the hourly rates are as follows:

  • Adult rate (age 21 and over) from £6.19 to £6.31 per hour
  • Youth Development rate (age 18 to 20) from £4.98 to £5.03 per hour
  • Young workers rate (under 18 and above compulsory school age) from £3.68 to £3.72 per hour
  • Apprentice rate (under 19 or those aged 19 and over but in the first year of their apprenticeship) from £2.65 to £2.68 per hour

The increase in the Adult rate represents an increase of 1.9% and in the Youth Development rate, an increase of 1%.

The Low Pay Commission, which recommends the level of the NMW to the government, said that, in determining the new rates it took into account the needs of low paid workers against the challenges facing businesses, in particular, small businesses. The Commission is particularly keen to publicise the Apprentice rate and recommends that the government should combine a communications campaign and a targeted enforcement initiative to publicise that rate to employers and apprentices and that infringers are punished and even named when appropriate. According to ACAS, in the past year, it received around 80,000 calls about the NMW and wages generally.

There has been a lot of media attention given recently to the idea of a "Living Wage" and many employers have signed up to the Living Wage Foundation objective to provide a living wage which is estimated to be £7.45 per hour in the UK and £8.55 in London. Clearly this is considerably more than today’s increased Adult rate.

Third-party harassment

There has been relatively little publicity given to the repeal of certain provisions of the Equality Act 2010, also effective from today.

The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 repeals section 40(2)-(4) of the Act that is, employer’s liability for third-party harassment. Those provisions meant that employers were liable for the harassment of their employees by a third party if the harassment had occurred on at least two occasions, the employer knew about it and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent it.

The government is of the view that the third-party harassment provisions are problematic for employers who, in many cases, may be unaware of the harassment that has occurred and have little control over it. In addition, very few claims of third-party harassment have been brought to the Employment Tribunal. Even so, a consultation exercise in summer 2012 showed there was little support for the changes. Indeed, 71% who replied to the consultation exercise opposed the repeal of the third-party harassment provisions. Nevertheless the repeal has gone ahead.

It is important to note however that this does not mean there is no remedy for employees who suffer harassment from third parties and arguably, the level of employees’ protection is relatively unchanged and various remedies are still available to individuals who suffer harassment from third parties.

For instance, under section 26 of the Act, employees could argue that where they have been subject to harassment from customers or service users for example and the employer knew about this but failed to take any action, this could amount to unwanted conduct by the employer relating to a protected characteristic that violated their dignity or created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them.

Don’t forget too that employers also have legal obligations to ensure the health and safety of their staff and to provide a safe working environment and liability could arise if they fail to take action in this regard. For instance, a member of staff reports incidents of bullying and sexual harassment by a customer and the employer does nothing about this and keeps the employee in the same role where the bullying and harassment may continue. This is very likely to impact on the individual’s health and well-being. 

If you want to find out more about any of the above issues, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment team at Morgan Cole on 029 2068 6000.

About the Author

Debra is responsible for the firm’s public employment training programme.

Debra Gers
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029 2068 6164

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