Spring forward: Recent changes in UK employment law

UK Employment Law

​It's that time of the year again – 5 and 6 April typically bring changes to UK employment law each year, and 2015 is no exception. So whilst we were busy enjoying the first day of sunshine and moaning about how creme eggs don't taste as good any more, UK employment law was busy a-changin'. In case you're still feeling a little lazy after the long Easter weekend, we've rounded up those changes and summarised them for you below.

As of 5 April 2015

  • RATES: The new prescribed weekly rate for Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Paternity Pay, Statutory Adoption Pay and now, for the very first time, Statutory Shared Parental Pay (see below), has been increased and is now set at £139.58.
  • SHARED PARENTAL LEAVE: For parents of babies due to be born, or placed for adoption, on or after 5 April 2015, Shared Parental Leave is available. If the conundrum of what to do about a Shared Parental Leave request or enhanced Shared Parental Pay is giving you a headache, please do get in touch to discuss.
  • PARENTAL LEAVE: One that seems to have stayed under the radar is the extension of the existing right of parents to take unpaid parental leave to spend time with their children. Whilst previously this right ended for parents of (non-disabled) children at age 5, it now extends right up to the child's 18th birthday. This follows the change in March 2013 which increased parental leave from 13 to 18 weeks per child (with a maximum of 4 weeks to be taken per year unless the employer agrees otherwise).

As of 6 April 2015

  • RATES:
  • REDUNDANCY: The maximum figure an individual employee can receive for a statutory redundancy payment has been increased to £14,250.
  • UNFAIR DISMISSAL CAP: The cap on unfair dismissal compensatory awards for an employee who wins their claim in an employment tribunal has also been increased, to £78,335 or a year's pay, whichever is the lower. Remember, the cap doesn't apply in discrimination or whistleblowing claims.

Also of interest

In a little heralded but potentially wide-ranging change, the ACAS Code of Practice on Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures has been updated and the right of an employee to be accompanied at a disciplinary and/or grievance hearing by their choice of companion is now much stronger.

Up until now, and based on the previous wording of the ACAS Code, the requirement for the request to be reasonable was understood to extend to the employee's choice of companion, effectively giving the employer the right to say "no" if it was felt that the chosen companion was unsuitable in some way – usually because their presence would prejudice the hearing.

Employers frequently relied on this wording to veto an employee's choice of companion where it was felt there was a conflict of interest. However, on 11 March 2015, ACAS' new Code took effect and the wording previously relied on has been removed (this follows a 2013 Employment Appeal Tribunal decision). The new Code is available here.

The changes mean that employers should agree to an employee's reasonable choice of companion. "Reasonableness" will apply to the making of the request, and not to the choice of companion. We recommend that employers review their disciplinary and grievance procedures to bring them in line with the ACAS Code. We also recommend that employers think much more carefully before refusing an employee's choice of companion. If in doubt, please contact us to discuss further.

Whilst compensation for a breach of an employee's right to be accompanied is likely to be minimal, employers shouldn't lose sight of the impact such a course of action might have on the overall fairness of a dismissal. Employers can, of course, seek to engage with the individual employee concerned in relation to their choice of companion, clearly explaining the reasons why the companion is considered to be unreasonable, and ask the employee to agree to an alternative; but if the employee insists, the employer should think twice before turning them down.

Until next year…

As always, if you have any questions or comments on any of the above, please don't hesitate to contact a member of Orrick's employment team.