How will the UK's change in government affect employment law?

Article 09 November 2022 Experience: Employment

The change of Prime Minister and other significant changes within the UK Government since last month have been followed by the reversal of at least one recently announced measure affecting employers. The position about other key measures remains uncertain but we outline here what we do know from recent announcements.

About turn on off-payroll working

As we reported at the time, on 23 September 2022 the then Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng, announced that the off payroll working rules that operate in both the public and private sectors to reform the taxation of limited company contractors, would be repealed.

On 17 October 2022, the new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt announced that the repeal would not be going ahead.

Government support for new equality measures

In July 2022, the Government confirmed that it would support the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill), a Private Member’s Bill, which makes provision for up to 12 weeks of paid leave for employees with responsibility for children receiving neonatal care. That Bill is now making its way through Parliament and is not expected to meet significant opposition.

The Government confirmed on 21 October 2022 that it will support three additional equality measures originally introduced as Private Members’ Bills:

The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill, if it becomes law, will enable a significant extension of the existing redundancy protection available to women on maternity leave.

Current rules require employers to offer a woman made redundant during maternity leave a suitable alternative vacancy where one is available with the employer or an associated employer.

In consultation in 2019 the Government suggested that a new law would provide for an extension of this right for six months from the date of return to work from maternity leave. The current version of the Bill would also confer the same right on women who have miscarried before making their employer aware of their pregnancy and to parents taking other forms of leave such as adoption leave or shared parental leave.

If enacted, these measures will require a careful approach to redundancy exercises affecting employees on family related leave.

The Carers Leave Bill, if enacted, will introduce a new right to one week’s unpaid leave per year from the first day of employment for employees who are providing or arranging care for dependants with long term care needs.

Much of the detail of how the right will operate will be left to regulations, but in its current form the Bill sets out a definition of ‘dependant’ (spouse, civil partner, child, parent, person living in the same household (but not a lodger or employee) or person who reasonably relies on the employee to provide care).

It also defines ‘long term care needs’ as having a physical or mental illness or injury that requires or is likely to require care over a period exceeding three months, or a disability under the Equality Act 2010 or a care need associated with old age. The new law will not therefore automatically apply to those with caring responsibilities for children.

It will be possible to exercise the right without the need to provide evidence of why it is being sought. Whether or not the leave will need to be taken continuously is left to regulations.

As with other statutory rights to time off, there will be protection from detriment or dismissal for exercising or seeking to exercise the right.

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill, if it becomes law, will establish employers’ liability for harassment of their employees by third parties where the employer has failed to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent the harassment.

It also introduces a duty on employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their employees (by anyone), and provides for a compensation uplift in sexual harassment cases where there has been a breach of that duty by the employer.

This new law would reintroduce (with differences) measures on third party harassment that were included in the Equality Act 2010, but repealed on 1 October 2013.

What is happening with EU based employment law?

It remains uncertain whether the new administration will proceed with the Retained EU Law Bill, which could have a radical impact on employment rights in the UK. The Bill is however working its way through Parliament and the House of Commons Public Bill Committee is due to report on 22 November 2022. For background on this issue see our previous article here.

If you would like guidance or advice on any of the above amendments, please get in touch with a member of our employment team.