Employment and Immigration Law Update - Quick fire June 2019


25 June 2019

Epilepsy in the workplace, non-disclosure agreements and the Pregnancy and Maternity Bill are all covered in this month's Quick fire.

Epilepsy in the workplace

A new report has been published by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) on employment support for people with epilepsy. The report follows research commissioned by the charity Epilepsy Action exploring the factors that contribute to people with epilepsy being disadvantaged at work. The research revealed a lack of knowledge and understanding of the condition and the report makes recommendations for employers on how to support those with epilepsy in the recruitment process and in the workplace.

In the UK, around one in 100 people have a diagnosis of epilepsy and they are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as those without the condition. The IES report recommends a personalised online toolkit relating to epilepsy, to improve awareness and provide advice on possible reasonable adjustments.

WESC Report: non-disclosure agreements

The Government has been consulting on proposals for the regulation of the use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in cases of workplace harassment and discrimination (see our previous Quick Fire item, March 2019). The proposals would apply to confidentiality clauses and non-disparagement clauses commonly included in settlement agreements. The consultation closed on 29 April 2019 and the government’s response is now awaited.

In the meantime, the Women and Equalities Select Committee (WESC) has conducted an inquiry into the use of NDAs, and has recently published its report. The report is critical of the routine use of confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements, particularly where such agreements are used by employers to avoid carrying out a full investigation into allegations of discrimination and harassment. It recommends that the government should introduce new measures to ensure that NDAs cannot be used to prevent the legitimate discussion of allegations of unlawful discrimination or harassment. It also wants standard, plain English wording to be required for such clauses.

In addition, the WESC has repeated its call for the time limit in claims of sexual harassment and pregnancy or maternity discrimination to be extended from three months to six months. It highlights the lack of affordable legal advice accessible to claimants and calls for improvements to the remedies available in the employment tribunals, as well as a presumption that employers would usually pay the employee’s costs in a successful claim of sexual harassment.

The WESC report contains many wide-ranging recommendations, some of which have already been rejected by the government and others that were included in the recent government consultation. The majority of the WESC recommendations are unlikely to be taken forward, but we are certain to see at least some changes being introduced in the way NDAs are used in the employment context.

Pregnancy and Maternity Bill introduced

A new Private Members Bill has been introduced in the House of Commons to protect pregnant women and new mothers from redundancy. The Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill prevents employees from being made redundant during pregnancy, maternity leave and for six months after the end of maternity leave, unless the employer has ceased to carry on business.

There has already been a consultation on government proposals to extend existing redundancy protection for new mothers from the date they notify their employer in writing of their pregnancy to six months after their return from maternity leave (see our previous Quick Fire item, February 2019). This new Bill goes further in seeking to prevent redundancy, rather than just extending the period of protection.

As a Private Members Bill it is less likely to progress and become law than a Government Bill, although it reportedly has cross-party support. It is, however, likely to have some influence on the outcome of the government’s consultation on the extension of redundancy protection, for which the response is still awaited.

These articles are from the June 2019 issue of Employment and Immigration Law Update, our monthly newsletter for HR professionals. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. Law covered as at June 2019.

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