We knew from the beginning of the year that 2019 was going to be dominated, in one way or another, by the single biggest change in politics we’ve seen in a generation: Brexit. Yet, while many of us look on from afar wondering what twist in the tale is coming next, it can be easy to forget many of us still have businesses to run and, from an employer’s point of view, staff to look after.
And, with Brexit dominating the headlines month after month, you might have missed the Government announcing their plans for 2019 regarding employment law.
Here are three of the changes potentially on the horizon for 2019 and beyond:
1. Changes to workers’ rights to reflect changes to modern working relationships (The Gig Economy)
Proposed changes to workers’ rights were announced at the end of 2018 as part of the Government’s: “Good Work Plan.” It has been announced that some of these changes will come into effect in April 2020, whist others do not yet have a timescale. The changes are designed to tackle issues recently seen in the courts and widely reported in the press by improving protection for agency workers, zero-hours workers and others with atypical working arrangements.
While there is to be no outright ban on zero-hour contracts, outlined changes include:
- Requiring employers to provide a written statement of terms and conditions to workers, detailing their paid leave entitlements, from day one;
- Increasing the break period required to severe continuity of employment from one week to four weeks;
- Making the test for employment status under employment law the same or as similar as possible to tax law in an attempt to reduce the number of workers being falsely labelled self-employed;
- Abolishing the rule that allows employers to pay agency workers less than their own workers if they are employed through an agency;
- Introducing a right to request a fixed working pattern after 26 weeks’ working on a non-fixed working pattern;
- Preventing employers making deductions from staff tips.
The Government is also improving workers’ ability to enforce their rights by bringing forward proposals for a single enforcement body and increasing the penalty for employers who have shown malice, spite or gross oversight in breaching employment rights from £5,000 to £20,000. This came into effect on 6 April this year.
2. The #MeToo effect: Changes to sexual harassment law and confidentiality clauses (or non-disclosure agreements as they have become commonly known in the press)?
The Government also announced it plans to introduce a code of practice for employers so that they can better understand their legal responsibilities to protect staff from sexual harassment. It is anticipated that employers who have demonstrably sought to follow this code will benefit from an inference that they have taken reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment taking place. The Government will also consult on the use of NDAs and how to strengthen harassment law generally.
3. The reintroduction of employment tribunal fees?
Less than 18 months after they were ruled to be unlawful by the supreme court, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed it is looking at the reintroduction of fees under a new regime. However, no detail has been released yet and such a scheme would require a lot of detailed consideration if it is to escape the access to justice scrutiny that led to the downfall of the last attempted scheme. However, Richard Heaton, permanent secretary at the MOJ, has told the House of Commons that he is confident a scheme can be implemented that would be: “proportionate, progressive and within its powers,” so we will have to wait and see what is to come.
In addition to the headlines above, we should also mention that with effect from 6 April 2019 all workers now have the right to receive an itemised pay statement and, where the worker is paid hourly, the pay statement must state the number of hours worked.
Of course we can’t ignore everyone’s favourite topic – Brexit. However, whether we leave with a deal, or no deal, there is unlikely to be any immediate changes to employment law as a result.
The “Workplace rights if there’s no Brexit deal” notice advises that any changes to employment legislation in the event of a no-deal Brexit, will be solely linguistic and that this will not change substantive employment rights.
If you wish to discuss any of the issues raised in this article or would like assistance with any aspect of employment law please contact Melanie Rowe, Senior Associate and employment law specialist, on 01872 227066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.