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Employment law: what to expect in 2014

BY Donald MacKinnon
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

In the employment law world, 2013 saw feverish activity in Westminster as a raft of legislation was passed bringing major changes, such as the introduction of fees in the Employment Tribunal and the launch of the protected conversations regime.  2014 promises to bring fresh changes as the Government pushes ahead with its plans to reform the employment law landscape.

Here’s a brief overview of what to expect: 

TUPE: changes to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 are expected in January 2014. Key changes include an amendment to the definition of a service provision change, an extension of the timeframes for submission of employee liability information and an extension to the definition of an ETO reason to include a change in location. 

HR questionnaires: will be abolished from 6th April 2014. 

Mandatory pre-claim conciliation: from 6th April 2014, employees wishing to raise a tribunal claim will be required to pass details of the claim to Acas before submitting a claim to the tribunal service. They will then be offered “pre-claim conciliation” for a month in order to try to settle the case before it goes any further. If it is refused by either party, or is unsuccessful, the claimant will be able to go ahead and present their claim to the tribunal. 

ET fines for employers: from 6th April 2014, Employment Tribunals will have the power to levy fines of up to £5,000 against employers. This is a firmly punitive measure designed to compensate the tribunal service for management failings which result in tribunal claims being raised. It is not clear to what extent tribunals will utilise the new power and in what circumstances they will do so, but it is anticipated that employers could expect to face fines where they have manifestly failed to follow processes and treated the employee particularly unfairly. The fines will be payable directly to the tribunal service, and will be paid separately to any compensation that the employee is awarded by the tribunal. 

Acas Code on Discipline and Grievances: the Government is planning to update the Acas code on discipline and grievances so that further guidance is given to employers dealing with poor performers. At present, the code is geared towards addressing conduct dismissals and it was felt that greater clarity is required to help employers dealing with other types of disciplinary issues. In March 2013, the Government said that it will work with Acas to produce a "simple online guidance tool" to guide employers through the disciplinary process.  

Flexible working: a new system of flexible working is expected to take effect in Spring 2014. The new rules will mean that all employees with over 26 weeks’ service will be able to make flexible working requests, extending the current right that only applies to parents and carers. Employers will no longer be bound by the statutory framework and instead only need to consider requests “reasonably”. 

Sickness absence: following a review of sickness absence in the workplace, the UK Government has proposed the introduction of a Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service in 2014. The service will, in effect, be a state-run occupational health service. The hope is that specialist medical advisers will be able to provide employers and employees with more in depth guidance on getting employees back to work, with the aim that overall sickness absence levels will be reduced. No firm implementation date has been given. 

Equal pay audits: fromApril 2013, tribunals will be given the power to order equal pay audits where an employer is found to have discriminated on the grounds of sex. Secondary legislation to implement this power is expected in 2014. 

Shared parental leave: the Government is consulting over plans to introduce shared maternity and paternity leave. Eligible employees will be entitled to a maximum of 52 weeks' leave and 39 weeks' statutory pay upon the birth or adoption of a child, which can be shared between the parents. It is not yet clear how the Government envisages that this will work in practice, although it is anticipated that more detail will be given following the consultation.

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