This month the news focuses on some key employment announcements from the Spring budget, changes to work checks guidance, a new proposed UK version of GDPR and a proposed right to request a more predictable working pattern. Lastly a new government employment champion has been announced to urge businesses to take action on the menopause.
- Spring Budget 2023: Key Employment Announcements
- Immigration: Revisions made to right to work checks guidance
- GDPR: Government announces new UK version of GDPR
- Working Practices: Proposed new statutory right to request a more predictable working pattern
- Menopause: Czar urges businesses to step up on policies
Spring Budget 2023 – Key Employment Announcements
In the Spring Budget 2023, delivered on 15 March 2023, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, announced a series of measures intended to support the UK workforce. Among the announcements were the introduction of a new Health and Disability White Paper on how to provide support and opportunities for workers with disabilities, the planned abolition of the lifetime allowance to encourage workers over 50 to stay in employment, the reiteration of government support for Private Members’ Bills providing unpaid carers with additional leave, parents with greater protections against redundancy, and parents of children in neonatal care with paid statutory leave, and commitments to encourage and facilitate flexible working arrangements between employers and employees.
In respect of immigration, Jeremy Hunt announced measures to tackle immediate labour shortages and ease business visits to the UK and further support for those who have come to the UK through the Ukraine Visa Schemes. Building off the Autumn Statement 2022, the Budget confirmed the government’s plan to deliver on three of the five key priorities set out by the Prime Minister in January: to halve inflation, reduce debt and grow the economy. The Spring Budget 2023 lists employment, education and enterprises as priorities for delivering on growth and building a high wage high skill economy.
Immigration: Revisions made to right to work checks guidance
The Home Office has updated its guidance for employers carrying out right to work checks. The guidance was updated late in the day on 28 February 2023 to reflect legislative changes and current practice. Examples include clarifying that employers should carry out on an online check for those with a pending Home Office application, administrative review or appeal, circumstances in which an employer should contact the Employer Checking Service and what employers should do if they are presented with a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) with an expiry date of 31 December 2024. Similar changes have been made, on the same day, to the right to rent checks guidance for landlords.
GDPR: Government announces new UK version of GDPR
The UK government has announced that British businesses will save billions of pounds through a new version of GDPR, which will replace the EU’s data protection laws after Brexit. The new law will allow UK businesses to avoid costly compliance fees and will maintain high levels of data protection for consumers. The changes are expected to provide a boost to the UK economy and enhance the UK’s reputation as a leader in data protection.
Working Practices: Proposed new statutory right to request a more predictable working pattern
The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill (the Bill) proposes to give eligible workers a new statutory right to request a more predictable working pattern. This follows the Taylor review of modern working practices and the resulting 2018 Good Work Plan in which the government committed to introduce policies to end ‘one-sided flexibility’. Eligible workers (not just employees) will have the right to make a request where:
- there is a lack of predictability as regards any part of their work pattern (the work pattern being the number of working hours, the days of the week and the times on those days when the worker works, and the length of the worker’s contract)
- the change relates to their work pattern
- their purpose in applying for the change is to get a more predictable work pattern
An application must state that it is a request for a more predictable working pattern, and specify the change applied for and the date on which it is proposed it should take effect.
The Bill does not contain other earlier government commitments to introduce a right to reasonable notice of working hours and compensation for shifts cancelled without reasonable notice.
A worker can only apply for a change to their working pattern if they have been employed by the same employer (whether or not under the same contract) at some point during the month immediately preceding a ‘prescribed period’ (this will be specified in regulations and is expected to be 26 weeks ending with the date of the application). There is no requirement for the service to be continuous.
A worker can only make two applications in any 12-month period. This includes any application under the flexible working provisions if that request is for a change which would result in a more predictable contract.
The Bill contains a similar set of rights for agency workers:
- an agency worker may be able to apply to a temporary work agency for a more predictable working pattern where they have had a contract with the agency at some point in the month immediately before a ‘prescribed period’ (to be set out in regulations)
- if the agency worker has worked for a hirer in the same role continuously for 12 weeks (within a period of time which will be set out in regulations) they may also be able to apply to the hirer for a contract of employment, or other worker’s contract, which is more predictable than their current working pattern
There is no definition of ‘predictability’ in the Bill. It does, however, specifically state that workers on a fixed term contract of 12 months or less may request that the term is extended or becomes permanent. Other than that, it seems that a ‘lack of predictability’ will cover any worker whose hours or days vary in a way which provides them with uncertainty, such as:
- casual/zero hours workers without a guaranteed number of hours
- annualised hours workers if the employer has discretion over the working pattern
- workers whose hours are determined by a shift pattern or rota, where that pattern/rota varies unpredictably
In many ways the process for dealing with requests reflects the flexible working regime. There is no obligation on the employer to agree to a request, but they must deal with the application in a reasonable manner and respond within one month. An employer can only reject an application for one or more of the specified reasons, which are:
- the burden of additional costs
- detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
- detrimental impact on the recruitment of staff
- detrimental impact on other aspects of the employer’s business
- insufficiency of work during the periods the worker proposes to work
- planned structural changes
If the worker’s contract terminates during the one month ‘decision period’ the requirements still apply. However, there are then some additional acceptable grounds for refusing a request such as the employer having acted reasonably in dismissing for misconduct or redundancy. A worker will be able to bring an employment tribunal claim if an employer fails to follow the requirements set out above which, if the claim is successful, could result in an order for reconsideration of the request or compensation. The amount of compensation will be set by regulations and could be limited to eight weeks’ pay as it is under the flexible working regime.
There is no timetable for implementation yet and, as noted above, some of the detail of how the right to request will operate in practice still has to be set out in separate regulations.
The new right will have the most impact in sectors where the use of casual workers and changeable shift patterns/rotas is widespread, and on businesses using short fixed-term contracts or agency workers. It is likely to lead to an increased focus on how best to manage these type of working arrangements.
The Bill only provides for the right to ask for a more predictable working pattern, not a right to a predictable working pattern. However, organisations which engage individuals on unpredictable working patterns will need to establish policies and procedures to deal with requests. They should also be aware that, if employment status isn’t clear, an individual might claim worker status while making an application for a more predictable working arrangement
(Content provided to Lexis-Nexis by Julie Keir, practice development lawyer at Brodies LLP.)
Menopause: Czar urges businesses to step up on policies
Helen Tomlinson, England’s first-ever menopause employment champion has called on businesses to develop policies and to normalize discussing the subject, saying that she has witnessed ‘the transformational power’ that talking about the health condition can have in a workplace. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced on 6 March 2023 that it had appointed Tomlinson to the post to raise awareness about the health condition. Tomlinson will also aim to encourage more employers to develop policies so women who experience symptoms are better supported, the DWP added. Tomlinson said that fewer than a quarter of UK businesses ‘currently have a menopause policy, but as I take on this role, I am determined that my generation of women in work will break the menopause taboo and have confidence that their health is valued’.
The DWP said that she will raise awareness of menopause, while promoting the benefits for businesses and the economy when women are supported to stay in work. Her role could also include advising employers about ‘small but significant’ changes they can make to the workplace, including offering women experiencing the symptoms of menopause more regular breaks and creating cooler spaces in offices, the DWP added.
The announcement of Tomlinson’s appointment came after the DWP had previously published official responses to two reports on menopause and the workplace. Tomlinson is Head of Talent in the UK and Ireland at the human resources provider Adecco Group. She was appointed to the role on a voluntary basis by the DWP, where she will work closely with Mims Davies, the Minister for Social Mobility, Youth and Progression. Davies said that menopause is a major reason that too many women leave the workforce early, often when they are at the peak of their skills and experience with so much more still to contribute. Tomlinson will also work closely with Lesley Regan, who was appointed as the government’s first women’s health ambassador in 2022.
According to the DWP, a quarter of women report that they have considered leaving their job due to experiencing menopause. Not all women experience symptoms that stop them from working, but research suggests that those with serious menopausal symptoms take an average of 32 weeks of leave from work over the length of their employment.
Many women tend to suffer in silence during perimenopause and menopause. Seeing this subject acknowledged at government level, gives hope that it will inspire businesses to do the same – educating and raising awareness about menopause-related issues, whilst also providing assistance and support to those who need it.
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