Positive Steps to Help Employers?

Employment Law Associate Partner, Louise Haward from Smith Partnership Solicitors has seen many changes in employment law during her 12+ years in this sector. The Government is again making further changes to employment law and the employment tribunal process in order to assist employers with the main aim of helping the economic recovery.

The array of changes scheduled for 2013, reports Louise, span from flexible working and a new system of parental leave to on-going pension changes and the unpopular shareholder status designed to avoid employment contract rights.

Good news for employers involves a new system of tribunal fees being introduced along with caps on compensation limits. The fee structures could see employees of complex discrimination claims being required to pay £1200 upfront to see their claim lodged in the tribunal and proceed to a hearing. This is designed to remove the “nothing to lose” attitude of vexatious litigants who issue claims because they currently have no initial fees to pay and employers are faced with costs in making applications for deposit orders or strike out of these claims. There is a debate over whether this will reduce access to justice for those employees who have no income having lost their jobs but the system appears to be designed to allow those with valid claims to proceed along with compulsory pre-claim conciliation to try to resolve them without the need to get to a court process seemingly positive for both sides states Louise.

Looking at the other scheduled changes the most significant is the updating of the parental leave system under the Children and Families Bill which includes reforms to the way in which parents can share maternity leave as well as the extension of flexible working to cover all employees who have 26 weeks’ minimum service. Under the new shared scheme employed mothers will still be entitled to 52 weeks maternity leave without the requirement to have a certain amount of service, mothers can then choose to end their maternity leave after the initial two-week compulsory period and then the parents can decide how they want to share the remaining leave, fathers will gain a new right to take unpaid leave to attend two antenatal appointments and there will be a new statutory payment for parents on shared parental leave. These rules will extend to those who adopt a child in the same way. The Government and ACAS are currently completing a final consultation on the proposals and the development of a code of practice for employers to implement the new rules.

Whilst initially employers will need to conduct audits and updates of their current family friendly policies to ensure that they match the news laws and the initial stages of administering the new rules may be felt as an expensive burden especially for smaller employers but commentators are convinced that this new system will assist employers and is in fact good for business as it will create a more motivated and flexible workforce and will help employers retain their female workforce rather than dropping out of work to start a family and flexible working should assist to widen the talent pool in the market to drive economic growth.

Louise warns employers that there are lots of changes and whilst these are positive for employers it is essential for employers to ensure that they are applying the new laws and their policies reflect the updated rights of their workforce to avoid confusion or at worst tribunal claims.