This is a time when people make and break New Year resolutions, gym memberships rocket and it seems everyone has succumbed to ‘dry January’. We look forward to the year ahead, eagerly anticipating change but cautious of the unknown. 2014 is no exception bringing yet more change to the constantly evolving employment legislation which appears to favour the employee.
From 6 April 2014, employers will need to consult with the independent arbitration service, ACAS, in order to resolve grievances. The conciliation process is designed to prevent arduous and expensive of litigation.
Prior to making a claim at the Employment Tribunal, employees must lodge details of their proposed claim with ACAS who will offer the parties the opportunity to engage in conciliation with the assistance of a conciliation officer for a month in order to try to settle the case before it goes any further.
If this offer of conciliation is refused by either party, or is unsuccessful, the employee will be able to go ahead and present their claim to the Tribunal. For employees, conciliation could be an extremely attractive approach financially. In addition, they will avoid Tribunal fees and reduce any legal fees. Also the conciliation process should be less stressful than their proceeding to a Tribunal claim.
A consultation paper comes out in the spring on zero-hour contracts and aims to identify whether providing employees with no minimum working hours is exploitative. The suggestion is that many employees are unable to plan their finances due to not knowing whether they will be given work. Others suggest that zero-hour contracts offer flexibility for employers by allowing them to cater for the fluctuating demands on their business.
The findings of last year’s consultation are expected to be published in October 2014. There is a suggestion that employers who fail to comply with decisions by Tribunals against them in equal pay claims may be forced to undergo an ‘equal pay audit’. Tribunals will be given the power to order equal pay audits where an employer is found to have discriminated in relation to pay on the grounds of sex. Those who fail to do so can expect to be subject to a fine of up to? £5,000.
If anything this may offer additional protection for those employees who have benefited from Tribunal decisions in equal pay claims. For smaller companies this could be fatal but for larger companies £5,000 is, arguably, a drop in the ocean.
Health and work
Spring 2014 will see the Government introduce the health and work assessment and advisory service. This sickness absence management procedure will be available to employees that are absent due to sickness for four weeks or more. It precludes employees from paying for occupational health assessments as the assessments are government funded. It will also guide and facilitate an employee’s return to work.
The Government plans to introduce flexible parental leave to enable parents to share the current period of maternity and paternity leave. Eligible employees will be entitled to a maximum of 52 weeks’ leave and 39 weeks’ statutory pay upon the birth or adoption of a child, which can be shared between the parents. Currently men are still only entitles to two weeks of paternity leave when their child is born. This, it is argued, will help parents balance their work and family commitments and create what Business Secretary, Vince Cable, called “a fairer and more family friendly society”.
We will keep you updated with which of the above proposals are introduced, and which turn out to be broken resolutions!