2013 was a hectic year for employment law with a significant number of regulatory changes including the introduction of Employment Tribunal fees, permitting employers to commence confidential negotiations about termination of employment and changes to the rules on whistle blowing, tribunal procedures, plus case law which has significantly affected both redundancy and annual leave provisions.
This year promises further significant changes which employers should be aware of:
From 31st January 2014 the TUPE Regulations have been amended. These changes should benefit businesses and are covered in our updated guide to TUPE Transfers.
From 6th April 2014 a person wishing to institute almost any kind of Employment Tribunal proceedings against a former employer will have to first contact ACAS, who will then attempt to settle the claim by way of conciliation between the parties.
Although it is mandatory for the employee to contact ACAS there is no obligation on them or the respondent to accept ACAS's offer to attempt settlement. ACAS will have a month to try and achieve settlement and can extend that period by a further two weeks if required.
If settlement is not achieved ACAS will issue the employee with a certificate which will permit them to then issue Employment Tribunal proceedings. The clock on the time limit for issuing an Employment Tribunal claim is stopped from when ACAS are contacted until they issue a certificate to the employee. In all cases the employee will have at least one month to issue a claim from the date the certificate is issued.
As yet the exact process ACAS will follow has not been finalised and we are awaiting further information. What is clear is that in most cases employer's will be contacted at an early stage about potential claims and at this point they will have to make a decision to either attempt settlement at an early stage or wait to see if the employee does in fact issue proceedings.
It should be remembered that ACAS's conciliation services will remain available at all times during the progression of a claim.
We will provide a more detailed guide to the early conciliation scheme closer to the launch date in April.
The government's Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service is expected to launch in the early part of this year. This is an occupational health service that will be available to employees of any business.
The hope is that the Service will assist employees who are on long term absence (four weeks or more) to return to work sooner, reducing the cost to employers of sickness absence.
The Service will work via GP referrals. An employee who has been off work ill for four weeks must be referred to the Service by their GP unless an exception applies (for example, because the employee will be returning to work soon or their absence is part of a longer term managed health condition).
The Service will assess the employee by way of an initial telephone assessment. They may then be referred for a face to face assessment. The Service must then provide a report to the employee, his or her GP and the employer outlining how best to enable the employee to return to work.
In addition a new advice service will be available to employers about managing sickness absence issues and a new tax exemption will be introduced of up to £500 per year per employee for medical treatment recommended by the Service, or an employer-arranged occupational health service.
The national minimum wage should increase, as is usual, on 1st October 2014. Recent comments by the government and main political parties suggest this year's rise might be greater than normal in order to bring the minimum wage in line with inflation. The new rates are expected to be announced in April.
The government is planning on extending the statutory right to request flexible working to all employees. This change was planned for 6th April 2014 but has been delayed; we will keep you updated once further information is released.
The right for parents to share paid parental leave is also to be introduced, probably in early 2015. This will allow parents to share child care responsibilities during a baby's first year of life.
If you have any questions about these developments please call us on 0114 241 7092 and we can advise you about how they will affect your business.
By Guy Woodcock
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