July employment law round-up
27 July 2023
Parental leave and pay: proposed reforms
In 2019, the Government published a consultation on various proposals to support families, including parental leave and pay entitlements. It has now published its response to the consultation, which sets out some minor proposed changes to existing paternity leave and pay legislation. It does not propose any changes to other family-leave entitlements.
The proposed changes are as follows:
- The current entitlement to two weeks’ statutory paternity leave will remain, but new fathers and partners will be entitled to take the leave in two separate blocks of one week rather than taking the two weeks as a single block of leave.
- The timeframe for taking statutory paternity leave will change so that it can be taken at any time in the first year rather than the first eight weeks after birth or adoption as at present.
- Notice requirements will change so that fathers/partners will need to give a minimum of 28 days’ notice before each period of statutory paternity leave they want to take. Notice of their entitlement to take paternity leave will still need to be given to the employer 15 weeks before the expected birth, as at present.
In relation to shared parental leave (SPL), the consultation response notes that respondents had highlighted the complexity of the existing scheme, suggesting that it could be simplified. There is also a lack of awareness and low take-up rate of the leave. However, the Government is not currently proposing to make any changes to the SPL scheme, instead highlighting an eligibility tool it launched in June 2021.
There is currently no confirmed date for the planned changes to paternity leave entitlement, which will require amending regulations, to take effect.
Alternative dispute resolution
The President of the Employment Tribunals (England and Wales) has issued new presidential guidance on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
The guidance explains the four types of ADR that are available to parties to resolve employment tribunal claims by agreement:
- Acas conciliation – using the services of a trained Acas conciliator to reach an agreed settlement of the claim.
- Judicial mediation – a consensual and confidential type of mediation conducted by an employment judge but without giving the parties an indication of their prospects of success.
- Judicial assessment – also consensual and confidential, but the employment judge will provide the parties with an evaluation of their respective prospects of success and possible remedies available.
- Dispute resolution appointments – a new form of non-consensual ADR that has been piloted in the Midlands. An appointment is arranged by an employment judge following exchange of witness statements, at which time an informed evaluation of the merits of the case will be given. The appointment is not optional, but parties are not obliged to accept the outcome. This type of ADR is designed for longer cases listed for six days or more.
The guidance explains the rationale for introducing the new form of ADR: a dispute resolution appointment. It is an attempt to address the high number of discrimination and whistleblowing claims that are waiting to be heard by the employment tribunals and which take up a disproportionate amount of judicial time due to their legal and factual complexity. These are contributing to the current long delays in cases being listed for a hearing. The three-year pilot of dispute resolution appointments held in the Midlands from 2020 to 2023 suggested that from around 200 such appointments, there was a net saving of over 1,000 sitting days.
The impact of the new dispute resolution appointments and the effect on current waiting times is likely to take some months to materialise.
Occupational health: new consultation
The Department for Work and Pensions has published a new consultation on occupational health provision, looking at the role of the Government, employers and occupational health providers in improving the coverage and quality of occupational health (OH) provision in the UK.
The Government’s intention is to enable better workplace support in order to improve productivity and prevent ill-health-related unemployment. The consultation comprises three sections:
- Voluntary proposals: including a national ‘health at work’ standard for employers to embed a baseline for quality OH provision, sharing best practice and developing new and consolidated guidance.
- Lessons from international comparators: seeking views on whether a legislative framework setting out requirements for employers should be introduced, as is already the case in some other countries.
- Developing work and health workforce capacity: proposals to develop existing OH workforce capacity and establish a multidisciplinary OH workforce in partnership with the private sector.
The consultation closes for responses on 12 October 2023.
Alongside this consultation, HMRC and HM Treasury have launched a separate consultation on using the tax system to support employers in increasing their provision of OH services for employees. This was first announced as part of the Spring 2023 Budget.
The tax consultation proposes the expansion of the current income tax and NICs exemptions for certain medical benefits in kind, meaning that it will extend to include additional health screenings and check-ups, treatments aimed at minimising workplace absence or improving performance and flu vaccinations. This consultation will also close on 12 October 2023.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at July 2023.