Employment Law Update - Workplace reforms announced

18 December 2018

The Government has just announced a large number of proposed legislative changes, which it claims to be the biggest package of workplace reforms for over 20 years.

The proposals are set out in the Good Work Plan, which is the latest Government response to the recommendations in the 2017 Taylor Review and also to the UK Labour Market Enforcement Strategy, published in May 2018.

Key proposals announced include:

  • giving zero-hours workers the right to request fixed working hours, after working for a minimum of 26 weeks on a non-fixed hours basis
  • giving all workers the right to a written statement of their rights, including entitlements to sick leave and pay and other types of paid leave such as maternity and paternity leave, from day one (rather than within two months, as currently applies to employees)
  • removing the ‘Swedish derogation’, which currently allows agency workers to be paid at lower rates than permanent staff if they have a contract of employment with the agency and are paid between assignments
  • extending the holiday pay reference period from 12 to 52 weeks under the Working Time Regulations 1998
  • extending the period necessary to break continuity of service with an employer from one week to four weeks
  • increasing the penalty awarded against employers that are found by an employment tribunal to have engaged in aggravating conduct, from £5,000 to £20,000
  • new 'naming and shaming' scheme for employers who fail to pay employment tribunal awards, which takes effect in relation to tribunal awards registered on or after 18 December 2018
  • lowering the threshold for employees to make a request for a formal information and consultation arrangement with their employer from 10% to 2% of the undertaking’s workforce
  • various increased protections for low paid and vulnerable workers, including proposals for a single enforcement body.

The Government has issued draft regulations in relation to some of these proposed changes, with an implementation date of 6 April 2020 applying to the new rules on issuing a statement of terms to workers and the extended reference period for calculating holiday pay. Amendments to the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 to remove the Swedish derogation, and the new threshold for requesting an information and consultation agreement, will also take effect on the same day.

It is likely that the right for zero-hours workers to request fixed working hours will operate in a similar way to the existing statutory right to request flexible working, with a set procedure and statutory grounds for refusing such a request. This does not yet have a timetable for implementation and is likely to be the subject of further consultation.

The Government has also committed to taking legislative measures to clarify the tests applicable to determining employment status, and to align these as far as possible with the tax framework. There are no firm proposals yet for how this will be achieved; instead the Government has commissioned further independent research on those with uncertain employment status before it brings forward detailed proposals.

The content of this article is for general information only. For further information please contact Liz Stevens or a member of Birketts' Employment Law Team.

This article is from the December 2018 issue of Employment Law Update, our monthly newsletter on employment legislation and regulation. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at December 2018.

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