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In May 2023 we reported how the UK government made a series of announcements in respect of proposed reforms to two areas of law derived from the EU – the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) and the Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR) – and launched consultations on its proposals. The government has now published a response to those consultations and the reforms it intends will go ahead, and which ones will not. 

This blog explores the changes which will take effect, and which are expected to be in force from 1 January 2024.Continue Reading An update – Changes to post-Brexit UK employment law: What is next for working time and TUPE

On 10 May the UK government made a series of announcements that affect employment law.

Firstly, a significant change to the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill means that we are no longer on tenterhooks about what EU laws will continue to apply. The sunset clause, which provided that EU law would be automatically

The UK government has announced new, increased statutory rates and limits that will be in place in England and Wales from April 2023. The updates impact a range of employment payments including, among others, national minimum wage rates and statutory sickness, parental and redundancy payments.

These rates are reviewed on an annual basis but, in 2023, given recent economic and inflationary pressures, they are set to increase considerably. For some employers, these increases could have a material impact on their overall wage bill and the cost of some types of operational change. We discuss some of the main changes below. Please see a list of the key new rates and limits and how they have changed.

National minimum wage (from 1 April 2023)

National minimum wage rates are set to materially increase at all levels and age categories. By way of example, the national living wage (for workers aged 23 and over) is set to rise from £9.50 per hour to £10.42 per hour.

Steps will need to be taken to increase pay for workers currently below these limits from 1 April 2023. Attention will also need to be given to workers whose pay is close to the new threshold to confirm that, when their hourly pay is calculated in accordance with national minimum wage legislation, it continues to meet statutory minimum requirements. Not doing so risks costly penalties for non-compliance (up to £20,000 per worker) as well as payments of arrears and being named and shamed on government lists.

Where changes are made to some workers’ pay for compliance with these changes but not others, employers may also want to consider the impact on overall pay structures. Is there now a smaller gap / increased pressure between the lowest paid roles and slightly higher paid roles? Will there be increased pressure from other workers to also receive an inflationary pay rise? Employers should review contracts and pay review practices to assess how these type of issues will be managed and be ready to answer employee questions. Some employers may consider one-off payments/bonuses to employees to support them during the cost of living crisis but targeting such measures at employees at the lower end of the pay scale can create its own problems in terms of justifying an arbitrary cut off point. Continue Reading Are you ready for the new employment rates and limits in England & Wales?

As reported on our blog in November, the idea of a four-day working week is gaining momentum in the UK. Last month, the not-for-profit organisation, 4 Day Week Global, reported the results of its six-month UK trial. With 92% of reporting companies confirming they will continue with the four-day week, the trial has been reported as a resounding success. In this article, we review where the four-day working week movement may go from here and what employers should be thinking about now.

What is a four-day working week?

The UK trial typically involved working hours being reduced to 80% (or full time employees working 4 out of 5 days a week) crucially without any drop in pay. The expectation is that productivity matches or even exceeds usual standards.

There are numerous ways to structure a four-day working week depending on what best suits a particular business, including a whole business shut down on one day, staggered days off or different sets ups for different teams or times of the year (e.g. to meet seasonal demand).

Why is a four-day working week becoming increasingly popular?

Coming out of the pandemic there has been an increased focus on work life balance, mental health and wellbeing, and employers’ roles in supporting employees on these fronts. Employers in some industries have also seen a talent war emerge as they find it harder to recruit and retain the best talent.

These conditions have arguably assisted the four-day working week in gaining momentum. Happy employees enjoying a healthy work life balance are less likely to fly the nest and join the so-called “great resignation”. For the moment at least, offering a four-day working week is also sufficiently unusual that it is likely to give a competitive advantage when recruiting new talent.

If it is correct that productivity is not negatively impacted, a four-day working week provides a way to recruit and retain without the cost burden of increasing salaries. It also offers cost savings in terms of recruitment costs and, potentially office running costs and, for some employees, potentially childcare costs. Of course, the more companies that make the move, the more pressure other employers in the same industries may feel to do the same.

Other benefits include reducing carbon footprint due to less frequent commuting and a potential social impact if employers use their time off for voluntary work. There is also a view that a four-day working week could improve equality by better enabling employees with caring responsibilities to manage those responsibilities around work and therefore remain in the workforce.

What were the conclusions of the trial?

The UK trial involved just under 3000 employees across 61 organisations. The headline results were as follows:

  • Company revenue stayed broadly the same over the trial period, rising by 1.4% on average
  • There was a 57% drop in staff leaving over the trial period
  • There was a 65% reduction in absenteeism (i.e. sick and personal (non-holiday) days)
  • 54% of employees said it was easier to balance work with household jobs
  • 39% of employees were less stressed
  • 60% of employees found an increased ability to combine paid work with care responsibilities
  • 62% of employees reported it was easier to combine work with social life

However, it is important to note that these statistics are based on a relatively small pool. The survey response rate from the participating employees was only 58% by the end of the trial and in some cases, the no/negative change was greater than the positive story. For example, whilst 39% of employees reported being less stressed by working a four-day week, 48% reported no change in their stress levels and 13% reported increased stress. The retention and absenteeism statistics may also be skewed by the small populations involved.Continue Reading What now for the four-day working week?

The National Union of Teachers has announced industrial action across England and Wales during February and March over disputes concerning pay, with national strikes on 1 February and 15 – 16 March, and several other regional dates. Scotland is also facing a rolling programme of teaching strikes until April.

With over 23,000 schools affected across England and Wales, the potential disruption for working parents and their employers should not be underestimated, especially as we do not know how long the strike action will continue. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is currently making its way through parliament which, if enacted, will allow minimum service levels to be required in certain sectors (including education) during periods of industrial action. This could reduce the impact of teaching strikes on working parents and their employers, but it is not law yet and will not completely eradicate the disruption even if or when it is.

Instead, employers should prepare for disruption over the coming months and consider the effects on their parent employees and other staff. Employers who anticipate the challenges faced, engage early to facilitate a solution, and plan for the longer term rather than simply the currently announced strike dates, will be best placed to minimise the impact in the workplace. Employers should also keep in mind that employees may only receive very short notice of school closures or adapted arrangements, with teachers not required to inform their employer if they intend to strike, making advanced planning more difficult in some cases. Teachers’ own childcare issues during the strikes may also impact the ability of certain schools to stay open which again, may be an issue that arises at the last minute.

Of course, occasional school closures do happen (snow days, for example, are not uncommon in winter months), and employers will be well versed with managing the knock-on impact on working parents and managing requests for, for example, emergency leave, unpaid leave, annual leave, time off in lieu (TOIL), and flexibility (such as working at home or adjusted hours of work). Strike days are, in many ways, no different but there are a few particular points to remember, plus the regular and widespread nature of the planned action provides both employees and employers with an opportunity to plan ahead.Continue Reading Teacher strikes: How UK employers can mitigate workplace disruption

Potential reform of the statutory flexible working regime has been on the agenda for several years but finally, after a consultation first launched in autumn 2021, the UK government has announced its intention to bring about some changes. Legislation will need to be introduced, and the timescale for that is currently unknown, but employers in England, Wales and Scotland will need to be prepared to review and amend their flexible working policies and procedures to ensure they comply with the new requirements.

Contrary to some headlines, the changes do not introduce flexible working as the default position.  The reforms fall short of flexibility being the starting point (i.e. only to be deviated from if there was a good reason) and instead retain the current principle that there is a right to request flexible working, but no right to work flexibly. This means that, like now, employers will still be able to turn down requests if there is a good business reason for doing so or if eligibility criteria are not met. The eight business reasons for rejecting requests (the burden of additional costs; detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; inability to reorganise work among existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff; detrimental impact on quality; detrimental impact on performance; insufficiency of work during the periods they propose to work; or planned structural changes) will remain the same.Continue Reading Flexible working reforms: what do UK employers need to know?

The 2022 winter work party season is upon us, providing the first real opportunity in a few years for end-of-year celebrations. Whether at company, location, or team level, seasonal gatherings provide a chance for employers to thank staff for their hard work and for everyone to relax, socialise and have some fun with their colleagues. Yet without careful thought and planning, they can be problematic for employers who can find themselves faced with fallout from the festivities.

Here are our top tips and reminders for UK employers:

  1. See the party as an extension of the workplace: Just because an event is taking place outside working hours or at an external venue does not mean it is not ‘work’. Workplace policies continue to apply, and employers may find themselves vicariously liable for the actions of their employees, particularly in respect of discrimination and injury. 
  1. Work parties should not be compulsory: Inclusivity should be at the core of party organisation (see below) but there are a variety of reasons why someone may not want to, or be able to, attend (and for many events it could be impossible to schedule something which works for everyone). Any concerns about attendance should be addressed, and no-one should be put under pressure to go along or be treated differently as a result of attending (or not).
  1. Beware of discrimination risks when organising events: When planning events, organisers should be as inclusive as possible, remembering for example that days or times chosen may preclude certain people (e.g. with childcare or caring responsibilities or religious observances) from attending; locations will need to accommodate any disabled workers; and food and drink options should meet all religious, cultural and dietary requirements. 
  1. Respect different religions and cultures: Employers should remain mindful that the winter period coincides with festivals and events for different religions (e.g. Christmas and Hanukkah) but that not everyone will celebrate these for religious or other reasons. Employers should avoid focussing on any particular celebration, and be careful with language to promote inclusivity. 

Continue Reading Get the party started: Preventing HR issues at work events

The football World Cup takes place in Qatar between 20 November and 18 December 2022, and many workers across the UK will want to follow the tournament. However, with many of the matches taking place during the working day or on a weekday evening, there are potential implications in the workplace. Here are our top tips for employers:

  1. See the tournament as an opportunity: Handled correctly, embracing the World Cup could help with employee engagement without having a detrimental impact on productivity. Actively addressing how the tournament sits along work commitments means that a balance can be struck between getting work done without the football acting as a distraction.
  1. Be flexible: Where possible, and within reason, allow employees to adjust their hours or place of work to accommodate them watching certain matches. This may necessitate longer or later lunch breaks, adjusting start and finish times, tweaking rotas, or switching work from home days. The requirements for approval should be made clear, as should whether (and if so, how) any lost hours should be made up, or taken out of annual leave entitlements.
  1. Accommodate annual leave: Managers should be prepared for short notice requests for (or cancellations of) annual leave, particularly in the later stages of the tournament, and be timely, understanding and consistent when considering such requests, even if they fall outside any usual holiday approval protocols.
  1. Monitor sickness absence: Absence on days of, or the day after, certain matches may give rise to concerns about whether the sickness is genuine, or has been brought about by e.g. excess alcohol. While employers should not be quick to make assumptions, and a one-off may be tolerated, inappropriate, repeated or regular absences demonstrating a pattern of behaviour may need to be addressed through sickness or, if appropriate, disciplinary policies.

Continue Reading Avoiding an own goal: Managing employment issues during the World Cup

On 23 September 2022, the new Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, unveiled the Growth Plan 2022 detailing the UK government’s set of economic policies aimed at, as the name suggests, boosting economic growth in the UK by improving competition and improving living standards by allowing people to retain more income. Much has been said in recent days on the merits and dangers of the plan and whilst we have seen an immediate impact on the value of the pound, it remains to be seen whether in the longer term the plan meets its aims and supports the country in navigating the likely impending recession. In the meantime, we summarise below the key elements of the plan from a UK employment perspective:

  • National Insurance cuts: On 6 April 2022, national insurance contributions (NICs) were increased by 1.25 percentage points, with a plan that this would make way for a new health and social care levy at the same level from April 2023. These have now both been scrapped. The NIC increase will be reversed from November 2022 and the health and social care levy will no longer be introduced next year. This is intended to make it cheaper for employers to employ staff, and allow more workers to keep more of what they earn.
  • Income tax cuts: The basic rate of income tax will reduce by 1 percentage point, from 20% to 19%, from April 2023, a year earlier than planned, and the highest income tax band of 45% for income over £150,000 is being abolished, again from April 2023. As with the NIC changes, this is intended to enable workers to retain more of their earnings.It is also hoped that the abolition of the top income tax band will attract more high earning talent to the UK.
  • Banker bonuses: A cap on banker’s bonuses was introduced by the EU following the 2008 financial crisis as it was believed that unlimited bonuses encouraged high-risk taking behaviour, and that a cap would limit the behaviour, which resulted in the crash. However, the cap came in for criticism for pushing up base salaries and bank’s fixed costs without allowing for adjustment for financial performance. Following Brexit, and the UK’s freedom to depart from the EU rules, that cap (of up to 2 times fixed salary) is now being removed. The thinking is that without the cap, the UK can be more competitive globally, being able to align pay practices with other markets, promoting UK economic growth, and to allow the UK to attract and retain talent in the UK.

Continue Reading UK Employment Law: key messages from the UK Government’s Growth Plan