After a long period in which the UK government has promised several employment law changes contained in an Employment Bill without bringing forward such a Bill, it has now announced it is supporting certain private members’ bills which include developments in these areas. These include expanding the right to request flexible working, a new right to request more predictable working conditions, a number of changes to family leave entitlements, and protection for those facing harassment by third-parties such as customers at work.
The private members bills as they stand at present is set out below. In most cases, these laws are not expected to come into force until 2024 at the earliest.
The right to request flexible working
The government has announced it is backing the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill, which is now at its report stage in the House of Commons.
If passed in its current form, it would not remove the current 26 weeks’ threshold required for employees to request flexible working arrangements (as was recommended by the Unequal Impact of Coronavirus report) but would require employees to consult with employees before rejecting their flexible working request, and would increase the number of statutory requests an employee can make each year from one to two.
It would also reduce the period within which the employer must decide on the request from three months to two months from receiving the request, and would also drop the requirement that the employee explain in their request what effect the change would have on the employer, and how this might be dealt with.
The right to request predictable working pattern
The Taylor Report in 2017 recommended that measures be taken to combat “one-sided flexibility”.
In February 2023 the government announced it would support the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill. If passed as it is currently drafted, the Bill would allow workers and agency workers with more than six months’ service to ask for a more predictable working pattern.
The employer must then consider the request within a set timeframe, and can reject it only on certain specified business reasons. Failure to follow the process properly, or rejecting the worker’s request based on incorrect facts, would make the employer liable for a penalty of up to eight weeks’ pay (capped at present at GBP 571 per week). A worker would be able to make a maximum of two statutory requests per year. Workers who make or seek to enforce a request for more predictable working conditions would be protected from detriment or dismissal for doing so.
Protection of employees from third-party harassment
The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill, which the government supports, would require employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment of an employee during their employment by a third party (such as clients or customers). Unless the employer can demonstrate that it has taken all such action, the employer would be vicariously liable for the harassment.
The Bill had its first reading in the House of Lords in February 2023 and as currently drafted, the Bill states that its main provisions will come into force one year after it is passed.
Unpaid carers leave
In September 2021, the UK government confirmed it would introduce a new statutory right of up to one week of unpaid carer’s leave. It has now supported the Carer’s Leave Bill, which is now before the House of Lords. If passed in its current form, it would give all employees who provide informal unpaid care to dependent family members or friends with a long-term care need a right to take up to one week’s unpaid leave each year, in increments of half or whole days. There is no length of service requirement and employees will not need to provide evidence of how the leave is used or for whom the care is provided.
Employees taking carer’s leave will have the same employment protections as other forms of family-related leave, including protection from dismissal or detriment for having taken or asked to take time off.
Extending redundancy protection for pregnant women and those returning from family leave
A woman has the right during her maternity leave to be offered a suitable alternative vacancy if one exists, in preference to other colleagues. (This right was subsequently extended to other employees on shared parental leave). Under the Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill, which the government supports, it would extend the protected period to the entire period of pregnancy (as soon as the employee has informed her employee of their pregnancy), the period of family leave, and six months following the employee’s return from maternity or shared parental leave.
Neonatal care leave
Following a consultation in 2019, the UK government promised that additional paid leave would be available for employees who are responsible for children who are admitted to neonatal care at birth or within 28 days of birth.
The government is supporting the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill, which has now reached the House of Lords, and which would give employees from day one of a new right to neonatal leave, and a right to neonatal leave pay for employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous service at the date of the leave and who earn at least the lower earnings limit (currently GBP 123 per week).
While the detail of these entitlements would be left to later regulations, the leave would be at least one week and the employee would have a right to take it in a period which would last as a minimum until 68 weeks after the child’s birth. Based on previous announcements, it is expected to mean that the parents or those responsible for a child which spends at least one week in neonatal care would be entitled to an additional week of leave for each week spent in hospital.
Allocation of tips
It is common practice in the hospitality, leisure and services industries that customers may pay additional tips to the workers who serve them. The Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill, supported by the government, would ensure that customers’ tips, gratuities and other service charges are allocated to workers in full, without deductions, by the end of the following month. A new statutory Code of Practice would be developed to provide businesses and staff with advice on how tips should be distributed. Workers would also have a new right to request information on an employer’s tipping record so that they have the information they need to bring a tribunal claim.