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April’s legislative changes to bloom or wither after the May election?


Various legislative changes came into effect in April 2010, many of which we have covered in previous e-lerts (please let us know if you would like further copies), but for ease, here is a quick summary of the key issues:-

  • The standard rates of statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay and statutory adoption pay will increase to £124.88 per week, or 90% of the person's average weekly earnings if less than £124.88.
  • New regulations come into force providing for additional paternity leave and pay to parents of babies born (and adoptive parents notified of a match) on or after 3 April 2011. Eligible employees (usually fathers, but including all partners including civil partners and same sex partners) will have the right to take up to 26 weeks' paternity leave, if the mother (or primary adopter) returns to work early. Part of the leave will be paid if taken during the mother's (or primary adopter's) paid leave period.
  • The new Equality Bill has received Royal Assent and the majority of its provisions will come into force in October 2010, the main purposes being to harmonise and strengthen existing discrimination law.
  • The Bribery Act 2010 has also received Royal Assent, this Act will introduce a new corporate offence of failing to prevent bribery by individuals acting on behalf of an organisation.
  • "Fit notes" have now replaced sick notes. >
  • The UK Information Commissioner's office has been given greater powers to impose fines on organisations that commit serious breaches of the Data Protection Act 1998, including a power to serve a civil monetary penalty notice on data controllers requiring payment of up to £500,000.
  • Employees working for employers with 250 or more employees will have a new right to request time off to train.
  • Tribunals will be permitted (where the claimant consents) to refer information about public interest disclosures to the relevant regulator such as the Serious Fraud Office or Heath and Safety Executive for investigation.
  • Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 comes into force, introducing new criminal offences of holding someone in slavery or servitude, or requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour. The penalty for those found liable will be a fine, up to 14 years' imprisonment, or a combination of the two.

Aside from the legislative changes, there have been a few interesting (indeed eyebrow-raising!) decisions from the courts in the last few weeks:-

  • Akintola v Capita Symonds Ltd - the Court of Appeal has held that a former employee was not subjected to any detriment for making what he claims to be a protected disclosure concerning health and safety, and all alleged detriment suffered by him was wholly unconnected with that disclosure.
  • O'Neill v Buckinghamshire County Council UKEAT/0020/09 the Employment Appeal Tribunal has upheld an employment tribunal finding that the employer had not failed to carry out a risk assessment for a pregnant worker on the basis that the requirement to carry out an assessment did not apply to the employee's work.

"Pregnant workers are not automatically entitled to a work assessment under Regulation 16 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 in the absence of evidence that the work involved a risk as to health and safety to the expectant mother".

Note: We take the view that both of these cases stand on their own facts and should not give any comfort to employers that they can avoid obligations to employees to undertake assessments or treat employees with detriment

Although much of the legislation has been passed, the result of the forthcoming election is bound to have an impact as all the party manifestos dictate different priorities ahead:- the Conservatives suggest that they will make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe, and propose a review of the Agency Workers Regulations; the Labour manifesto suggests changes to flexible working and paternity leave; whilst the Liberal Manifesto also offers a review of flexible working rights, increased flexibility in terms of the allocation of maternity, paternity and adoption leave and enhanced protection for whistleblowers in some sectors. The future is therefore uncertain, what is certain, however, is that we will be revisiting these topics again in the months ahead. In the meantime, all our readers are advised to carefully review their policies to ensure they are adequately covered for the challenges ahead.

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