The government published its “Good Work Plan”, in response to the Taylor Review of employment practices, with emphasis on agency, casual and zero-hours workers.  The government described it as “the biggest package of workplace reforms for over 20 years”.

Shortly after the announcement the government laid statutory instruments implementing aspects of the Good Work Plan.

The key proposals are:

  • A right for a more fixed working pattern for those who do not have one, after 26 weeks’ service. An employer would have to deal with this in a similar manner to a flexible working request.
  • A right to be provided with a written statement of terms for all workers (currently available only to employees) from day one (rather than two months). Regulations have been published which will bring these changes into effect on 6 April 2020.
  • Extending the reference period for determining an average week’s pay (for the purposes of holiday pay) to 52 weeks (currently 12). The Working Time Regulations 1998 will be amended and are due to come into force on 6 April 2020.

The government will launch a campaign to boost awareness of holiday and holiday pay rights among employers and individuals.

  • Changing the rules on continuity of employment. Casual employees can find it difficult to accrue certain employment rights, e.g. protection from unfair dismissal, because a gap of one week can break continuity.  The government will extend this to four weeks.
  • Abolishing the Swedish Derogation, which gives employers the ability to pay agency workers less than their own workers in certain circumstances. Regulations have been published which are due to come into force on 6 April 2020.
  • Banning deductions from staff tips.
  • Lowering the thresholds for requesting information and consultation arrangements from 10% to 2% of employees, subject to the existing minimum of 15 employees. Regulations have been made which will implement this change from 6 April 2020.
  • Refining the employment status tests; to include developing an online status tool. The government has not said how it intends to produce this clarity.
  • The maximum penalty for an employer’s “aggravated” breach of employment law has increased from £5,000 to £20,000 for any breaches occurring on or after 6 April 2019.

The government will also produce new guidance as to how the current powers can best be used.   Regulations will also be introduced to place an obligation on tribunals to consider these sanctions.

For those aspects which do not have draft legislation, there are not any specific timescales to legislate.  Although we can expect to see more draft legislation as the year progresses.

Parental bereavement leave and pay: employed parents will have a statutory right to two weeks’ leave if they lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy.  They will also be able to claim statutory parental bereavement pay, if they meet the relevant eligibility criteria (similar to the eligibility criteria for statutory paternity pay).  Leave will be available to be taken as a single block, or as two separate weeks.  Employed parents will have a period of 56 weeks in which to use their entitlement.  It is expected the new rights will come into force in April 2020.

Potential developments to look out for

Re-introduction of employment tribunal fees? The Supreme Court judgment in R (on the application of Unison) v Lord Chancellor left open the possibility of a new scheme which would strike a balance between increasing tribunal funding and safeguarding the delivery of justice.  The Ministry of Justice indicated that plans for a new fee regime was in development.  There is currently no time-frame in place for the possible re-introduction of fees.

Redundancy protection for women and new parents: currently if a woman who is on maternity leave is selected for redundancy, she must be given priority over other redundant employees when the employer offers suitable alternative employment.  The government has consulted on extending the right to women who have returned from maternity leave in the previous six months.  It is also considering extending the right to those women who have told their employer that they are pregnant, and parents who are on adoption leave, shared parental leave and longer periods of parental leave.