A quick round-up of recent employment law developments
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New Statutory Rates
Each year in April there is traditionally an increase in various statutory rates in line with the Consumer Prices Index (CPI). This year will be no different. With effect from 11 April 2022, Statutory Sick Pay will increase from £96.35 to £99.35 and the statutory weekly rates for maternity pay, adoption pay, paternity pay, shared parental pay, parental bereavement pay and maternity allowance will all increase from £151.97 to £156.66.
From 1 April 2022 the following increases to the National Minimum Wage rates and the National Living Wage will apply:
National Minimum Wage
Fire and Rehire Practices
The ethics of ‘fire and rehire’ practices has been a popular topic of late. This refers to those instances when employers dismiss and then rehire employees on new terms (usually less favourable ones). Keir Starmer has publically stated that the process will be outlawed if Labour comes to power. ACAS has now published guidance to help employers avoid such practices. ACAS is urging employers to consider in the first instance whether a contract change is definitely necessary to solve the relevant issue; there may be other ways of achieving the same goal. If a change in contract is necessary, employers are urged to consider the risks and their options, bearing in mind the circumstances. ACAS provides detailed information in its guidance as regards consultation requirements and how employers can seek to reach an agreement with their employees. Indeed, it encourages them to ensure that they take the time to do so; advising that fire and rehire should very much be a last resort.
Gender Pay Gap
The Government states that the pay gap has significantly fallen, with an additional 1.9 million women in employment since 2010. However, new research carried out for the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) Deaton Review of Inequalities has concluded that taking account of women’s increased educational achievement, there has, in fact, been hardly any change to the gender pay gap in the last 25 years. The research measures the gender earnings gap across three different margins; employment, hours and wage rates. It concludes that, while raising the National Minimum Wage has assisted with closing the gap for lower earning workers, it has not had any effect on the gap for graduates. Parenthood is also a critical turning point it states, at which point the gap in both employment and hours immediately and substantially increases. Ultimately, the researchers conclude that policies are inadequate as they still accept “traditional gender norms” and the perception of women as caregivers.
COVID-19: Repayment of CJRS Grants
On 2 December 2021, HMRC updated its Guidance, Pay Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme grants back. It details how employers must pay back all or part of their CJRS grant if they have overclaimed. The guidance also adds a new section that addresses what actions must be taken if employers have not paid employees enough. This includes employers being required to top wages up to the required levels (the lower of either 80% of their wages or the rate of £2,500 per month (or equivalent) for hours they did not work). This must be done within a “reasonable period” and usually by the indicative date set out in the guidance. Employers must ensure they are on top of this and have complied with the CJRS grant scheme and if not, address any shortcomings as per the guidance. It should not be forgotten that there are consequences of erroneous, or worse, fraudulent claims, which include clawback, potential corporate offences and criminal liability.
Workplace safety for pregnant women during the pandemic
Maternity Action has concluded in a new report, Unsafe and Unsupported: workplace health and safety for pregnant women in the pandemic, that workplace health and safety rules are not “fit for purpose” for pregnant women. A poll conducted by the charity found that 69% were fairly or very worried about catching COVID-19 because of their work and 20% took time off or even left their jobs because of this concern. The report notes that the guidance has been inconsistent and confusing and that there has been insufficient advice and action from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities, leaving pregnant women without any way to address their concerns, and the impossible choice of either taking their employers to an employment tribunal (a costly and lengthy process) or continuing to work in unsafe conditions. The report has consequently detailed 16 recommendations, including: updating guidance on the requirement for risk assessments; an annual HSE report on the number of requests for advice on health and safety raised by or in relation to expectant employees; and also extended timeframes for expectant employees or new mothers to bring employment tribunal claims.
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