November employment law round-up
29 November 2023
National Minimum Wage: new rates from April 2024
Revised rates of the National Minimum Wage (NMW), to apply from 1 April 2024, have been confirmed by the Government, accepting the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission.
The NMW rates that will apply from 1 April 2024 are as follows:
|April 2024 rate
|National Living Wage – workers age 21+ (currently age 23+)
|18-20 year olds
|16-17 year olds
These new rates represent the largest ever cash increase to the NMW. Note that the highest National Living Wage (NLW) rate, which currently applies to those aged 23 and above will be extended to all workers aged 21 and above. For a NLW worker working 37.5 hours per week, these increases will increase their annual pay by £1,994.36 and their monthly pay by £166.20. According to the Low Pay Commission, the increase “will restore the real value of the NLW, which has been eroded through the recent cost of living crisis”.
The Low Pay Commission is currently reviewing the broader framework for setting minimum wages to inform the Government decision after 2024 and has indicated that it is considering applying the full adult rate starting at age 18.
Reforms to fit notes announced
The Government has launched a new ‘Back to Work’ plan for welfare reforms, supporting those with long-term health conditions, disabilities or long-term unemployment to look for and stay in work and introducing tougher sanctions for those who do not look for work. According to government statistics, since the pandemic the number of people inactive in the UK due to long-term sickness or disability has risen by almost half a million to a record high of 2.6 million, with mental health, musculoskeletal conditions and heart disease being some of the main causes.
As part of the proposed reforms, the Government is planning to consult on changes to the current ‘fit note’ system. The intention is to provide individuals whose health affects their ability to work with easy and rapid access to specialised work and health support. To start with, “trailblazer trials” will be conducted in a small number of Integrated Care Boards (locations not yet announced) offering better triage, signposting and support to those who have received a fit note for a prolonged period of time. This will inform a later consultation process on reforms to improve the fit note process.
Separately, the Work and Pensions Committee has issued a new ‘call for evidence’ for a new inquiry into the effectiveness of statutory sick pay (SSP) and whether reform would better support recovery and return to work.
The inquiry will look at whether the current level of SSP is sufficient and whether changes should be made to eligibility criteria in terms of earnings and length of sickness absence. It will also explore the best way for the Government to support businesses to help staff return to work and what lessons the UK might learn from the experiences of other countries.
A previous consultation, launched in 2019, considered several proposals for the reform of SSP including removing the concept of qualifying days, extending eligibility to those earning below the lower earnings limit and enabling SSP to be paid during phased returns to work. However, in 2021, the Government’s response confirmed that it was not the right time to introduce major changes to SSP.
The latest call for evidence asks for submissions on a number of questions that were considered as part of the earlier consultation. It asks whether the current level of SSP is sufficient, whether a higher level of pay but a shorter duration (as in many European countries) might be a preferable alternative and whether the three-day waiting period should be changed or removed. It also asks whether the role of the employer in administering SSP could be improved, and how a phased return to work and SSP could work better together.
The deadline for submissions is 8 December 2023. The evidence collected is likely to inform any future government proposals for reform to the existing SSP system.
Occupational health: Working Better
The Department for Work and Pensions has issued its response to a consultation on occupational health provision it conducted earlier this year. The Working Better consultation, published in July 2023, looked 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 response confirms the Government’s intention to take forward the following actions:
- The development of a voluntary minimum framework for quality OH provision, setting out the minimum level of OH intervention for employers to adopt to help improve employee health at work.
- Explore the introduction of new voluntary national workplace health and disability standards, providing best practice guidance for employers to support people with health conditions.
- Explore options for a potential small and medium enterprise (SME) group purchasing framework, to allow SMEs to pool their purchasing.
- Develop a long-term strategic approach to build a multi-disciplinary work and health workforce.
The Government has not committed to any timescales for the implementation of these initiatives. It has confirmed that there will be no automatic enrolment for OH, and mandatory OH provision will not be introduced. There will be a further response published “in due course” on its separate consultation looking at providing additional support to employers for occupational health provision through the tax system.
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 November 2023.