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Every October brings new employment law changes, and this year has certainly been no different. The first six points highlight some of the key changes followed by a few other issues that have made the headlines recently.

1. Modern slavery statements
Slavery may have been abolished in the 19th century, but modern slavery exists in the form of forced or compulsory labour, servitude or human trafficking. From October 2015, employers with an annual turnover of £36 million or more will have to publish a modern slavery statement each year. These employers must state the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery existing in any part of their business or supply chain.

2. Sikh safety helmet exemption extended to all workplaces
The exemption of turban-wearing Sikhs from wearing a safety helmet on construction sites is to be extended to all workplaces from 1 October 2015. This employment law change means that Sikhs will be able to wear a turban, and not a safety helmet, in workplaces like warehouses, factories and vehicles involved in transportation.
There are some limited cases where Sikh workers will still need to wear head protection, but these are mainly restricted to those working in emergency response or members of the armed forces.

3. National minimum wage increases
The government has announced that from October 2015 the national minimum wage rates increased by 3% for workers aged 18 and over and 2% for 16-17 year olds. The largest increase this year was to the apprentice rate, which was by 21%.
From 1 October 2015 the minimum wage rates are as follows:
• Workers aged 21 and over, the rate increased by 20p to £6.70 an hour
• The rate for 18 to 20 year olds increased by 17p to £5.30 an hour
• The rate for 16 to 17 year olds increased by 8p to £3.87 an hour
• Apprentices (aged 16 -18 and those aged 19 or over in their first year) increased by 57p to £3.30 per hour.

The government has also announced that from April 2016, a new minimum wage of £7.20 per hour will be introduced for all working people aged 25 and over. The “national living wage” (NLW) will be compulsory and the Low Pay Commission (LPC) will recommend future rises, with the Government aiming for it to reach £9 an hour by 2020. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has estimated that the cost to business will amount to 1% of profits. To offset that cost, the Government is cutting corporation tax to 19% in 2017 and 18% in 2020. Small firms will also benefit from a cut in their national insurance contributions. From 2016, the new Employment Allowance will be increased by 50% to £3,000.

4. Tribunals lose power to make wider recommendations
From 1 October, tribunals no longer have any power to make recommendations that go beyond an employee’s own circumstances in a discrimination claim. In practice, the power to make recommendations for the benefit of a wider workforce was rarely used.

5. Ban on smoking in cars with children
Under the smoke-free legislation, company vehicles must be smoke free unless the vehicle is mainly used for an employee’s private purposes. From 1 October, drivers of private cars in England are banned from smoking in them if they are carrying children under 18 as passengers. This move follows a similar ban in Wales, with Scotland also in the process of introducing one. Employers will need to consider revising their smoking and company car policies, as employees using a company car for family purposes will be affected by the new law.

6. Referrals under the new Fit for Work service
The Government’s new Fit for Work service (FFW) should be fully operational by autumn. The aim of the service is to help employees return to work following a sickness absence. Occupational health advice can be obtained through the FFW website ( and telephone helpline. Employers can also refer an employee for a free occupational health assessment when the employee has been absent from work for at least four weeks.

7. General Points
Early Conciliation
Media has reported that Acas has dealt with more than 83,000 cases in the 12 months since early conciliation was introduced. Of these, three-quarters of employees have opted for early conciliation and their employers agreed to participate.
Its statistics show that 48% of claimants who used early conciliation, either reached a formal settlement or were otherwise helped by Acas to avoid going to tribunal. In April 2014, the law changed so that anyone wishing to launch a tribunal claim would have to notify Acas first to see if the dispute could be resolved.

Once a notification is made to Acas, the legal time limit within which a claimant can bring a tribunal claim is extended by one month, giving the parties time to discuss options and try to reach an agreement, although neither party has to accept the offer of conciliation.
In the nine months between April and December 2014, 63% did not proceed to a tribunal claim, while a further 15% resulted in a formal settlement, known as a COT3. Just over one-fifth (22%) progressed to a tribunal claim.
Of those who could not settle their case directly through early conciliation but did not proceed with a claim, just over a quarter said this was because tribunal fees put them off.

Tribunal fees were introduced in July 2013, after which claimants must pay an issue fee of between £160 and £250 when submitting a claim and a hearing fee of £250 to £950 when the claim is listed for a final hearing. The number of claims going to tribunal has plummeted since fees were introduced.

Working grandparents to be able to share parental leave in future
The Chancellor announced at the Conservative Party Conference in October that he will extend shared parental leave and pay to working grandparents. The planned changes will increase flexibility and choice in parental leave arrangements and support working parents with the costs of childcare during the first year of a child’s life. The government will bring forward legislation to enable this change, with the aim of implementing the policy by 2018. The government will consult on the details in the first half of next year. The plan will involve extending the current system of shared parental leave to cover grandparents, as well as the child’s mother and father. The total of 50 weeks of leave will not be extended, but the plan is aimed at giving greater flexibility to families in the first year of a child’s life. Parents will be able to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of parental leave pay, currently £139.58 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower, with a nominated working grandparent.

The government states that they recognise the crucial role that working grandparents play in providing childcare and supporting working families. Evidence suggests that nearly 2 million grandparents have given up work, reduced their hours or have taken time off work to help families who cannot afford childcare costs. Evidence shows more than half of mothers rely on grandparents for childcare when they first go back to work after maternity leave, and over 60 per cent of working grandparents with grandchildren aged less than 16 provide some childcare. In total, some seven million grandparents are involved in childcare. The new system will also provide flexibility in working arrangements for grandparents without fear of losing their job.

Firms sign up to ‘name-blind CVs’ to end discrimination
A range of private and public sector employers have signed up to a government backed pledge to operate recruitment on a ‘name blind’ basis to address discrimination. The scheme is aimed at ending what the government calls “disgraceful” discrimination – where recruiters reject CVs based purely on reading the names of applicants. The Civil Service has committed to introducing name-blind recruitment for all roles below Senior Civil Service level. Other top graduate recruiters like KPMG, HSBC, Deloitte, Virgin Money, BBC, NHS, learndirect and local government are joining organisations like Teach First by committing to deliver name-blind applications for all graduate and apprenticeship level roles.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) will be promoting the benefits of name-blind recruitment and will be working towards embedding this as standard through its training and development courses. Diversity experts anticipate that the introduction of name-blind recruitment processes and school and university-blind interviews will help prevent unconscious bias and ensure that job offers are made on the basis of potential – not ethnicity, gender or past personal circumstance.”

If you need any further information on any of the above points or any other aspects regarding the employment of staff, please do not hesitate to give either Jane or Jannette a call.

Disclaimer. The purpose of this briefing is to give a brief introduction to current topical issues on employment law. Although every effort has gone into providing accurate, relevant and up to date information, it must not be relied upon as giving sufficient advice in any specific case. Professional advice should always be taken, before any decision is reached on matters relating to the employment of staff and their rights.

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