08 Jun 2023

Employment law changes came into effect in April 2023

Written by Rachel Flynn - The TBA member's legal adviser

Featured in the May issue of Owner Breeder magazine

In the wake of COVID, almost all businesses seem to be desperate for staff.  There are currently major shortages of workers in several industries, with demand high in sectors including hospitality and care.  The Chancellor in his Spring budget highlighted that that a shortage of workers was holding back growth, and he wanted more over-50s, people with disabilities and parents of young children to get back to work.  The object of the many of the measures he introduced were intended to help fill a million vacancies across the UK.

Demand for people to work in studs and racing stables also remains high, meaning proprietors need to be seen to be offering competitive terms to prospective staff and be aware of changes to the law that may be round the corner.  

First, the strikes.  Government is introducing legislation designed to require workers in the transport, health, fire and ambulance and education sectors to work during strike action, to allow an employer to deliver a minimum service. These are controversial measures, with challenges expected by the unions. 

The rest of the government’s proposals in the bills listed below are intended to meet a key objective: remove barriers for specific parts of the workforce.  So, what to look out for and what does it mean for business?

  • Flexible working rights.  Amongst other things, the Government supports the following measures: giving workers the right to request flexible working from day one of employment, removing the present 26-week qualifying period; requiring employers to consult with their employees before rejecting their flexible working request; allowing employees to make two flexible working requests per year; and requiring employers to respond within two months.
  • Up to 30 hours of free childcare will be available to working parents of children from the age of nine months by September 2025. Initially, from April 2024, working parents of two-year-olds will be able to access 15 hours of free childcare per week.
  • The Carers’ Leave Bill will give those responsible for dependants the right to up to one week’s unpaid leave as a day-one right. These new rights, alongside the changes to the flexible working regime, will add to existing entitlements including the right to emergency time off.
  • the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill would introduce another day-one right, for each parent to take up to 12 weeks’ paid leave to care for a premature or new-born baby in need of neonatal care.
  • Also on the horizon are changes to rights for maternity returners who find their roles redundant.  The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill will change existing arrangements This bill will extend the right to be redeployed during pregnancy (including miscarriage), maternity and family leave for another 6 months after that leave where an employee’s role becomes redundant during that period. These are important provisions that will need to be managed carefully during an employee’s family or maternity leave and as well as in the period following their return and when restructuring or reduction in force exercises are being considered.
  • It is expected that the Miscarriage Leave Bill and the Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill will progress, providing a right to paid bereavement leave and paid time off for fertility treatment respectively.

Proposed amendments to the Equality Act, to address harassment in the workplace, will extend employers' duties to protect against sexural harassment and reintroduce protection for third-party harassement. Key features of the bill include:

  • The creation of a statutory duty requiring an employer to prevent sexual harassment of employees and workers.
  • Where sexual harassment occurs, as well as enforcement by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, an employment tribunal will be entitled to increase compensation in an individual harassment case by up to 25%.
  • It will also make the employer liable for the harassment committed by third parties, e.g., customers, service users and clients, and in an education setting (such as students). This third-party liability applies to all forms of unlawful harassment, including racial harassment and offensive conduct based on age or disability.

These are ‘duties to prevent’, which means having a policy won’t be enough. So, in addition to amending dignity at work policies, organisations must make clear what is unacceptable, enforce those standards and be able to demonstrate that action is taken to tackle these issues when they arise.

In light of the mass dismissals involving P&O Ferries, in March 2022 the Government announced that a new Statutory Code on dismissal and re-engagement (so-called “fire and re-hire”) would be published. This will also allow tribunals to apply an uplift of up to 25 per cent on employee compensation where the code applies and has unreasonably not been followed. 

Employers can voluntarily progress many of the issues raised above in order to make the workplace a fairer place and assist with recruitment and retention.

Finally, the so-called Brexit Freedoms’ Bill, could impact a range of employment regulation from TUPE, Working Time, fixed-term, part-time and agency worker rights as well as equal pay if enacted.  The Government has also announced its intention to replace the UK GDPR with a British data protection system.

Increases to the national living wage and national minimum wage rates come into effect on 6 April 2023 and affect all employers.  The National Living Wage will increase on 1 April 2023 to £10.42, a significant jump from £9.50.

Statutory family leave payments – the rate of statutory maternity pay, paternity pay, adoption pay, shared parental leave and parental bereavement pay will increase to £172.48 per week.  Statutory sick pay will increase from £99.35 to £109.40.

The financial award for compensation for unfair dismissal will increase from £93,878 to £105,707 (or 52 weeks’ salary, whichever is lower).  The new limits will apply to dismissals occurring on or after 6th April 2023.