The Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament sets out the UK government’s legislative agenda for the year ahead. This year’s speech took place on 10 May, and in addition to the Queen’s absence, there was notable absence of any employment law reform.

In particular, the long-awaited Employment Bill, which was included in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019, was not one of the new Bills announced. Its omission was not unexpected, having been excluded from the legislative agenda during 2020 and 2021 too, but it is perhaps now even clearer that employment law is not a priority for the current government.

When first announced, the Employment Bill was expected to contain a plethora of new or enhanced rights including: carer’s leave; neonatal pay and leave; enhanced redundancy protection during pregnancy and maternity; an ability to retain tips; making flexible working the default; and increased contract predictability for workers. It was also expected to legislate to create a new single enforcement body. 

Continue Reading Queen’s Speech 2022: What next for UK Employment Law?

Covid-19 related reluctance or refusal to attend the workplace is nothing new, but as we enter a new phase of the pandemic, ‘Living with Covid’, developing case law will be of interest to employers who require or expect workers to attend the workplace on a full or hybrid basis. This blog considers the current guidance on workplace attendance, the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal’s (EAT) decision in Rodgers v Leeds Laser Cutting (a case looking at whether an employee had protection against unfair dismissal when refusing to attend work due to Covid related concerns), and some practical considerations for employers.

The UK government’s ‘Living with Covid’ plan came to full fruition in England on 1 April 2022, with remaining Covid-specific guidance now largely obsolete, and replaced with general public health guidance. This essentially treats Covid like other respiratory illnesses for individuals and business to manage, leaving employers with discretion on how to manage ongoing Covid risks in the workplace, and individuals encouraged to exercise personal responsibility. 

Employers are no longer required to consider Covid specifically in their risk assessments, nor have specific Covid mitigation measures in place, although they must continue to comply with their general health and safety obligations. Similarly, ‘work from home if you can’ guidance has been removed, although individuals with symptoms of a respiratory infection (including Covid), and who have a high temperature or do not feel well enough to work, or anyone with a positive Covid test, are advised to try and stay at home, working from home if possible, and to avoid others. Individuals who cannot work from home are advised to discuss options with their employer. 

Continue Reading Covid-19 related refusal to attend the workplace

Despite resolving to close an exploited loophole on ferry worker pay, the government has stopped short of an amendment to UK national minimum wage legislation.

In October 2020, legislative changes extended the minimum wage to most seafarers working on ships in UK waters, regardless of where a ship was registered, but those working on ferries (other than between UK ports) were not included, leaving scope for operators to hire crew on international routes on hourly rates below the UK minimums. In the absence of reasonable minimum wages, ferry operators can gain a competitive advantage by driving down wage levels.

Recent events have drawn attention to this practice, and in an announcement this week, the Transport Secretary set out the government’s plan to address some of the pay issues in response to this.

While recognising that a minimum floor is needed to prevent the competitive driving down of wages, and to ensure appropriate and fair levels of pay for ferry workers, the reality of pay arrangements across international borders is not straightforward.
Continue Reading Ferry workers’ pay is still at sea

The practice of ‘fire and rehire’ (i.e. dismissal of an employee and offering re-engagement on new, usually lesser, terms) as a way to facilitate a change to terms and conditions of employment has been under the spotlight in recent years. It is not a new strategy as a way of making changes to employment contracts, nor is it unlawful if handled properly, but the tactic has been subject to increased scrutiny in recent years as cases of misuse by some employers have hit the headlines.

In autumn 2021, legislation curbing dismissal and re-engagement was shelved by the government and replaced with a commitment for updated and more detailed Acas guidance. That guidance (which is not binding) focusses on the importance of thorough and constructive consultation with staff to explore all alternative options to terminating employment, describing fire and rehire as ‘a last resort’.

Fast forward a few months, and the government has announced that we can now also expect a new Statutory Code of Practice on fire and rehire intended to crackdown on the inappropriate use of the tactic, with increased punitive financial sanctions for non-compliance.

As always, the devil will be in the detail. The new Code is expected to set out the consultation process to be followed where there are proposed changes to terms and conditions, and to give practical steps for employers to follow. It is also expected that an additional 25% penalty (on top of the existing punitive sanctions) will be levied where an employer deploys fire and rehire tactics without first having made reasonable efforts to reach agreement through consultation, or where there is otherwise unreasonable non-compliance with the Code.
Continue Reading Fire & rehire clampdown: will a new Statutory Code of Practice help?

It is hard to avoid the media furore following the events at P&O Ferries last week, where approximately 800 staff were reportedly dismissed for redundancy, without notice and without prior consultation, before being replaced with cheaper staff. Leaving aside the specifics and merits of P&O’s actions (which are complicated by international and seafaring considerations), the

Next up in our Real Time Video Chat series, David Ashmore, Carl De Cicco and Alison Heaton explore the latest trends and issues regarding workplace vaccination policies in the UK. The group discusses the current statutory position on mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, sick pay policies affecting the unvaccinated and what the term “fully vaccinated” means

Whether employers can require evidence of vaccination as a condition of employment or attendance in the workplace has been a hot topic in recent months, with many employers (having weighed up various legal obligations and risks) introducing a policy featuring vaccination status to some extent. Yet vaccination status is not stable and the dilemma now facing these employers in the UK is whether to revisit their policy requirements due to the rollout of booster jabs. Put simply, should employers with a vaccine policy now require vaccinated individuals to have the booster?

Full vaccination is currently seen as having completed the full course of an approved vaccine (i.e., being ‘double jabbed’, unless in receipt of an approved one-dose vaccine). At the moment there is no mention of the booster on the NHS Covid pass, receipt of the booster is not a pre-requisite for activities such as travel or attendance at venues, nor is it a requirement of deployment for care home staff (where there is a legal requirement for full vaccination, unless exempt, in England). On this basis, employers may be minded to maintain the same stance and ignore the boosters for any workplace policies too.

It will certainly be appealing to employers to maintain the status quo from a practical perspective. The administration of assessing whether staff eligible for a booster have had it is likely to be a particular challenge, both keeping track of who is eligible when (as although all UK adults have been offered the full course of an approved vaccine, the booster is only currently available to vulnerable groups and to those aged over 40, six months after their final jab), and what ‘evidence’ an individual has of a booster (as until this appears on the NHS Covid pass the individual will have little by way of proof that they have received it). Further, employers are likely to want to avoid having to update and communicate a change in policy so soon after introducing it, and dealing with any engagement issues or disputes arising from a change in approach.
Continue Reading What does the booster jab mean for vaccine policies in the UK?

Despite menopause being a natural part of the ageing process, there is a general lack of awareness of its symptoms and effects, often resulting in menopausal women* experiencing a lack of support, as well as discrimination and harassment. This blog looks at the legal issues, and what employers can and ought to be doing to create a supportive and empathetic workplace culture.

Some of these issues were highlighted in a recent Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decision, Rooney v. Leicester City Council, which was handed down shortly ahead of World Menopause Day on 18 October 2021. This case acts as a timely reminder of the challenges that menopausal women face in the workplace and the fact that more can be done to raise and demonstrate understanding and awareness of what remains a taboo subject.

Mrs Rooney was a childcare social worker for Leicester City Council until she resigned from her post. She brought a number of claims against her employer, including a claim for disability discrimination, relying on menopause as her disability. She cited symptoms including insomnia, fatigue, light-headedness, confusion, stress, depression, anxiety, palpitations, memory loss, joint pain, migraines and hot flushes that left her physically and mentally unable to cope over a couple of years, and having to spend prolonged periods in bed. She received hormone replacement therapy and was under the care of a specialist menopause clinic.
Continue Reading Menopause in the workplace

The UK government’s long awaited response to its 2018 consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace has now been published. In this update, we look at the findings made and what may be coming down the line for employers as a result.

  1. Introduction

The 2018 Women and Equalities Select Committee (WESC) report on sexual harassment in the workplace revealed clearly that it was a persistent and important issue, despite the existence of current legal protections. As a result, the government committed to consult on the issue and have produced an official response to the 2018 report.

The government undertook a consultation from 11 July to 2 October 2019, on sexual harassment in the workplace. This consultation took a two-part form, consisting of: 1) a technical consultation with employers on the functionality of the legal framework designed to prevent sexual harassment, and 2) a public questionnaire aimed at gathering insight into the experiences of individuals.

The consultation was designed to explore:

  1. The evidence for the introduction of a mandatory duty on employers to protect workers from harassment and victimization in the workplace
  2. How best to strengthen and clarify the laws in relation to third-party harassment
  3. Whether interns are adequately protected by the Equality Act 2010 (the Act) and the evidence for extending the protections of the Act to volunteers
  4. The views of stakeholders on extending employment tribunal time limits in the Act from 3 months.


Continue Reading Overview of the governments’ ‘Consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace: government response’