Shakira Joyner, HR Consultant from hchr Limited shares her blog with us:
Once again, the time is approaching for another set of employment law changes in the UK.
This is an annual occurrence at this time of year, but you will find that a lot of employers and businesses are unprepared and still become worried or anxious about these upcoming changes and what they will mean for the business.
New laws and policies can sometimes cause headaches for businesses, but knowing they are coming and preparing appropriately is half the battle. These new laws are introduced every October in order to provide a better working life for employees and more beneficial situations for businesses in general, so it should be within employers’ best interests to ensure they are adhering to these new laws.
The upcoming changes in the law this September/October include referrals to occupational health, minimum wage increase, helmet exemptions, and more.
Referrals Under New Fit for Work Service
Effective from 8th September 2015 the government has introduced a new Fit for Work service that is designed to help employers manage sickness absence in coordination with employees and their GPs. The service is designed to benefit employers by reducing the costs of sick pay and helping employees return to work earlier, as well as benefitting those organisations that might not have access to occupational health advice and services.
Employers will now be able to refer their employees for a free occupational health assessment if they have been absent from work from four weeks or more. This assessment can then determine if an employee is able to come back to work sooner than they might think. Whilst this dovetails nicely into existing long term sickness management policies managed by HR, you should be aware that this new scheme is not driven by HR or the employer. Employees can access the service directly, which may result in a Fit For Work caseworker approaching line managers. This presents a potential significant risk. An unguarded, ill informed answer could have costly consequences for the organisation. We are advising all our clients to inform their managers in writing that if they are approached by a Fit For Work caseworker to pass the call on to HR. Of course managers play a vital role in managing an employee’s return to work, but does so with qualified experienced HR support. Action is required to amend sickness absence management policies to include this new service.
Sikh Safety Helmet Exemption
Previously, Sikhs that wear turbans were exempt from wearing safety helmets on construction sites, but from October 2015, this will now be extended to all workplaces. This means that in workplaces such as factories, warehouses, or transportation vehicles, Sikhs will be allowed to wear a turban instead of a safety helmet.
If your business operates in any such industry, then this will affect any Sikhs in your employment. However, you should ensure you are well informed about this change to the law, as there are some exceptions where Sikh’s will still be required to wear head protection, such as in emergency response.
National Minimum Wage Increase
Another year and another minimum wage increase. The rise in minimum wage reflects the rise in the cost of living, and is not something that should be taken too lightly.
From October 2015, the hourly rate of minimum wage for adults will increase from £6.50 to £6.70. Minimum wage rates for 18-21 year olds will increase from £5.13 to £5.30, for under 18 year olds from £3.79 to £3.87, and the rate for apprentices will increase from £2.73 to £3.30.
This is a mandatory change for all businesses in the UK, and you should ensure that all of your employees are aware of the change. Depending on your business policies and salary calculations, this might mean that all wages will see a general increase, but no matter what the situation, you should always be aware of this important part of employment law.
Ban on Smoking in Cars with Children
In Wales it is illegal for drivers to smoke in the car if they are carrying passengers under 18 years of age. The ban will apply to England from 1st October 2015.
Scotland is also in the process of introducing this ban.
Employers should think about reviewing their smoking and company car policies and making changes where necessary, as this new change in the law will affect any employees that use company cars for private/everyday purposes.
Modern Slavery Statements
This might seem like an unnecessary step to some of us in the UK, but slavery still exists in some parts of the world, and international organisations need to show their commitment to combating it.
This is why, from October 2015, employers with an annual turnover of £36 million or more will now be required to publish a modern slavery statement each year in order to illustrate the steps they are taking to prevent modern slavery from existing within any part of their organisation, including their supply chains. For goods produced overseas, some supply chains will source cheap labour, and that is where the danger for slavery exists.
It is hoped that organisations will not need to plan for this change in any drastic way, but they should make sure that their operational structure and processes are clear and concise in preparation.
Tribunals Lose Power to Make Wider Recommendations
From 1 October, tribunals no longer have any power to make recommendations that go beyond an employee’s own circumstances in a discrimination claim. In practice, the power to make recommendations for the benefit of a wider workforce was rarely used.
Employment change update kindly provided by Heather Cooper and Shakira Joyner of hchr Limited, Swansea