Employment Law General Update – July 2022
This month’s news covers health at work with the consideration of the introduction of a maximum limit to workplace temperatures and guidance on the new fit notes. We also have an analysis of recent gender pay gap reporting, a report on the low rates of sustainable disability initiatives at FTSE 100 companies, draft regulations for banning exclusivity clauses in contracts and new ACAS guidance about workplace discrimination.
- Health at Work: MPs call for maximum limit to workplace temperatures
- Health at Work: DWP publishes fit note guidance for healthcare professionals
- Gender Pay Gap: New analysis shows more companies reporting an increase in their average gender pay gap
- Diversity: Less than 40% of FTSE 100 companies have sustainable disability initiatives
- Contracts: Draft regulations laid extending ban on exclusivity clauses in employment contracts to low-income workers
- ACAS Advice: ACAS publishes new guidance on asking and answering questions about workplace discrimination
Health at Work: MPs call for maximum limit to workplace temperatures
An early day motion (EDM) which calls on the government to introduce legislation to ensure employers maintain reasonable temperatures in the workplace has been signed by 38 MPs. The EDM calls for legislation to enforce a maximum temperature of 30 degrees Celsius, or 27 degrees Celsius for workers doing strenuous work and to require employers to introduce effective control measures, such as installing ventilation or moving staff away from windows and heat sources. The issue of maximum workplace temperatures, which arises from time to time, was previously raised as an EDM in 2013.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (SI 1992/3004) requires employers to ensure that temperatures in all workplaces inside buildings are reasonable. While an Approved Code of Practice sets a limit on minimum workplace temperatures of 16 degrees (or 13 degrees if the work involves severe physical effort), there is no limit on the maximum temperature. See what the Health and Safety Executive says about the law here.
Health at Work: DWP publishes fit note guidance for healthcare professionals
On 1 July 2022, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published Getting the most out of the fit note: guidance for healthcare professionals. The publication follows the expansion of the category of people who can sign fit notes for the purposes of SSP and social security claims and the earlier removal of the requirement for fit notes to be signed in ink. There will be a transitional period during which both the 2017 and 2022 versions of the fit note will be legally valid while relevant IT systems are updated and stocks of paper fit notes in hospitals are replaced.
The guidance has been issued alongside the publication of non-statutory guidance on who can issue fit notes and a training package on e-learning for healthcare. The resources are intended to be used together to support eligible healthcare professionals in ensuring they have the expertise and knowledge to certify and issue fit notes. The guidance reiterates that an assessment is about whether a patient is fit for work in general and not job-specific. It also recognises that incomplete fit notes can make it difficult for employers to support a patient and cause delays to a patient’s return to work.
Information is provided on the factors that should be considered when assessing fitness for work, as well as information on how to discuss a patient’s beliefs about health and work if they are reluctant to return to work. In addition, there is information on how the free text section of the note should be completed, including the importance of giving practical advice to employers. In this section, it is noted that the only reference to a patient’s current job should be in the context of possible workplace adaptations or if the job may be affecting their health. Towards the end of the guidance, there are several case studies and an FAQ section. The FAQ section highlights that a medical professional’s advice is not binding on an employer, and it is for an employer to determine whether to accept the advice.
The guidance for employers and line managers and employees has also been updated to reflect the expanded category of people who can sign fit notes.
Gender Pay Gap: New analysis shows more companies reporting an increase in their average gender pay gap
PwC analysis of gender pay gap data has found that of the companies that disclosed their data this year 43% reported an increase in their average gender pay gap (up from 41% the year before). A decrease was reported by 53% of companies and no change was reported by the remaining 4%. 1,826 more companies reported their gender pay gap details this year.
The analysis shows that only small changes, of no more than plus or minus 5%, have been made to most companies’ pay gaps. This suggests that “significant change may take a long time” as organisations “continue to struggle with making impactful changes to the gap“.
Diversity: Less than 40% of FTSE 100 companies have sustainable disability initiatives
A recent study by Agility in Mind has found that only 37% of FTSE 100 companies have sustainable disability initiatives in place and just 4% have neurodiversity initiatives. This is despite 99% of FTSE 100 companies having inclusive mission statements. Of the 250 business leaders who were polled as part of the research, 16% described their neurodiversity initiatives as “highly effective” compared to 26% of those who described their race or gender equality initiatives in the same way.
Separately, a TUC-commissioned survey of approximately 1,000 HR managers across different workplaces has found that 21% of workplaces do not have specific support policies for LGBT staff and only 25% have a policy setting out support for trans and non-binary staff.
Contracts: Draft regulations laid extending ban on exclusivity clauses in employment contracts to low-income workers
Draft regulations have been laid before Parliament which will prohibit exclusivity clauses in the employment contracts of workers whose earnings are on, or less than, the lower earnings limit (currently £123 a week). The draft regulations follow a government consultation on extending to other low earners the ban on exclusivity clauses which was introduced in 2015 to zero-hours workers’ contracts.
The draft regulations largely mirror the rights of zero-hours workers set out in section 27A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Exclusivity Terms in Zero Hours Contracts (Redress) Regulations (SI 2015/2021). They will make unenforceable any contractual term which prohibits a worker from doing work or performing services under another contract or arrangement, or which prohibits a worker from doing so without their employer’s consent. Where they breach an exclusivity clause in their contract, employees will be protected from unfair dismissal and workers will be protected from detriment. The new unfair dismissal protection will have no qualifying period. Where an employment tribunal finds that a worker has suffered a detriment, it may make a declaration and award compensation it considers just and equitable up to an amount equal to the unfair dismissal basic and compensatory award.
The draft regulations will come into force 28 days after the day on which they are made and apply to England, Scotland and Wales.
ACAS Advice: ACAS publishes new guidance on asking and answering questions about workplace discrimination
Following the repeal of the statutory questionnaire procedure in 2014, ACAS published non-statutory guidance, Asking and responding to questions of discrimination in the workplace to assist employees and employers in asking and responding to discrimination questions. That guidance was subsequently withdrawn.
ACAS has now published new information on its website on asking and answering questions about discrimination at work. The guidance sets out suggested steps for an employee who believes that they may have been discriminated against in the workplace, guidance on the information they should provide in writing to their employer and the types of questions they could ask their employer in order to help establish whether discrimination has taken place. The guidance also explains how employers should consider and respond to employees’ questions concerning workplace discrimination, and what might or might not amount to unlawful discrimination. An example statement and questions concerning potential discrimination to an employer and an example employer’s response are also provided.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: firstname.lastname@example.org