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End of year employment law round-up

9 December 2015

A round-up of the main employment law changes that have recently came into effect from autumn 2015.  Sarah Everton, employment law specialist at Myers & Co Solicitors in Burslem, outlines the main changes and the action you need to take as a result.

National minimum wage rises

The minimum wage is reviewed every year and traditionally it has been increased on 1 October.  This year was no exception.  The new hourly rates are:

  • adult rate (21+): £6.70
  • development rate (18–20): £5.30
  • young workers rate (16–17): £3.87
  • apprenticeship rate: £3.30.

The accommodation offset limit has risen to £5.35 per day.  The government’s new national living wage is due to take effect from next April.  This will add a premium of 50p to the minimum wage for those over 25 so that the rate for those workers will effectively increase to £7.20 per hour from April 2016.

Employers should ensure that staff have been paid the correct new rates from 1 October 2015.  You are also advised to start planning ahead for the national living wage and consider the implications on your payroll budget.  If you have concerns about affordability, and think you may need to make changes to your staffing structure as a result, please contact us for legal advice on following the correct procedure.

Apprenticeships

The Enterprise Bill will create a new offence where someone offers an apprenticeship that is not a statutory apprenticeship, in order to protect the apprenticeship ‘brand’.  In addition, since 1 September, anyone bidding for a large public sector contract that lasts for more than one year has to state how many apprenticeships they intend to create.

Employment tribunal recommendations

Where an individual had made a successful claim for discriminationemployment tribunals could previously make recommendations that applied to the wider workforce, not just the claimant.  Examples included introducing an equal opportunities policy and training staff on diversity.  This power has been rarely used and the government abolished it as of 1 October.

Turbans and protective headgear

Sikhs wearing turbans are exempt from wearing safety helmets on construction sites.  This was extended to all workplaces from 1 October.  This means that Sikhs do not have to wear protective headgear in workplaces such as warehouses, factories and company vehicles.  Those working in the armed forces and the emergency services do still have to wear head protection.

You may need to update your health and safety policy and, if you have one, your personal protective equipment policy.

Ban on smoking in cars

Company vehicles were already required to be smoke-free, unless the car was mainly used for the employee’s private purposes.  Since 1 October, drivers of private cars in England are also banned from smoking in them if they are carrying a passenger who is under 18.

You should ensure your employees are aware of this and you may also need to revise your smoking and company car policies.

Slavery and human trafficking statements

The government now requires every commercial organisation carrying on business in the UK with a turnover of £36 million or more, to publish a statement on its website every year setting out the steps it has taken to ensure its business and supply chains are free from slavery and human trafficking, or stating that it has taken no such steps.  Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act came into force on 29 October 2015. There are transitional provisions, which mean that statements will have to be prepared for each financial year ending on or after 31 March 2016.

Even if this does not apply directly to your business, your more large-scale customers may have to carry out due diligence on their supply chains and they may start asking you questions about the goods and services you supply to them so that they can prepare their statements.

Fit for Work service

This scheme, under which GPs can refer an employee for a free fitness to work assessment if they have been, or are expected to be, off sick for four weeks or more has now been rolled out across the country. In addition, employer referrals have been available since 8 September. This means that you can refer an employee to the service once they have been off sick for four weeks and the aim is to get them back to work more quickly. A fitness to work assessment will be carried out, which will result in a return to work plan. You can now accept these plans in place of GP fit notes as evidence of sickness.

It is difficult to assess the value of these assessments until we see what reports come back. Karen has often recommended a private assessment be carried out by a qualified occupational health practitioner where employees are on long term sick or suffering from a disability. The reports from the practitioner we use have always been practical and commercial and helped the employer rather than place unrealistic requirements on it. The free Fitness to Work assessment will not necessarily however be done by a qualified occupational health professional and may be less bespoke. If anyone has already made a referral to it or received an assessment initiated by the GP, do let Karen know as she would be very interested to find out what local employers’ experience of it has been.

If you have any queries on these changes or need help to update your policies please contact Sarah Everton employment solicitor at Myers & Co on 01782 577000 or email sarah.everton@myerssolicitors.co.uk.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only.  They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.  Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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Sarah Everton

DDI: 01782 525012

E: sarah.everton@myerssolicitors.co.uk



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