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Employment Newsletter - Issue 10

27th April 2021

Employment Newsletter - Issue 10

In this edition, we will be covering:

  • Expected Employment Bill
  • Hybrid Working
  • What’s at the end of the Road(map)?

Legal Update #1 - Expected Employment Bill

It is anticipated that the Employment Bill (originally announced in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019 but delayed by the pandemic) will be introduced at some point later this year.  This bill introduces a number of significant changes that employers may want to prepare for:

  • Predictable Contracts for Workers on Zero Hours Contracts
    Workers on zero-hour contracts will have the right to request a more predictable contract from their employer after 26 weeks’ service and employers will have three months to reply to any such requests they receive.  To prepare for this change, employers should review the number of workers they have on zero hours contracts and their typical working patterns and develop a policy setting out how they will deal with such requests.

  • Extension for Redundancy Protections for Women on Maternity Leave
    Under the current rules, employers must offer women on maternity leave a suitable alternative vacancy where one is available before making her redundant.  It is proposed that this protection will be extended under the Employment Bill, so that it will apply from the date the employer is notified (in writing) of the pregnancy until six months after her maternity leave has ended and she has returned to work.  

  • Two New Types of Statutory Leave
    It is likely that the Employment Bill will introduce two new types of statutory leave: 12 weeks’ ‘neonatal leave’  for parents of babies requiring neonatal care to be taken at the end of any maternity or shared parental leave; and a week’s leave each year for unpaid carers.  To prepare, employers should consider the impact of these new types of leave and any updates that may be required to their company policies as a result.

  • Flexible Working
    The conservative manifesto included a commitment to consult on whether flexible working should become employers’ default position in employment contracts, and it is anticipated that any such change would be introduced as part of the Employment Bill.  At present, it is uncertain what the extent and effects of this change will be, however, employers may want to be aware of the government’s commitment in this area if they are updating their flexible working policies and working practices more generally as a result of the pandemic.

 

Legal Update #2 - Hybrid Working

Another topic attracting lots of press attention is the discussion of a possible move to hybrid working with a number of large organisations, including Nationwide Building society and PwC, announcing they are adopting a mix of home working and office working post pandemic.  Hybrid working models all involve a mix of office and home based working, although exactly how time is divided between the two varies between different organisations: some organisations preferring a model that includes specified days in the office every week / month and others preferring a more flexible approach where employees can decide each day where will be the most appropriate place for them to work.

The idea being that the right mix of at home and office working should enable employees to find effective ways of working so that productivity is increased whilst reducing time spent commuting and giving employees greater flexibility to manage their working lives and other personal commitments.

To successfully implement any new working policy, including hybrid working, the employer needs to carefully consider how the working model might work in their organisation so that the new policy works for them.  If employers are considering adopting a hybrid model the following are some of the things that will need to be considered:

  • Will the hybrid model work for all the roles in your organisation? Or are there some roles that really require office attendance?
  • When are you likely to require employees to attend the office? Will this be for specific training, team meetings, or project management meetings booked in advance or would you prefer to have set days where all employees or certain teams are in the office?
  • How will you manage employees when they are working remotely?  In particular consider how junior employees will be supervised and how you will manage your health and safety and data protection obligations when people are working away from the office.
  • Will employees be able to work anywhere they like including co-working spaces, coffee shops etc or will there be some restrictions on where they can work?  As well as being a practical issue where employees work can also have tax consequences (especially if they are working from outside the UK) so this is worth considering carefully.

As always, employers should be mindful of how any new policy is likely to affect their employees and, particularly, if the policy may disadvantage particular groups of employees.  Although the decision to switch to a new workplace model is a strategic one that is likely to be considered at a senior level first, communicating your plans and developing the new policies in consultation with employees should help to identify and resolve any potential issues at any early stage. Once agreed, it will also be important to formalise the new arrangements by updating contracts of employment and staff handbooks and other policies as appropriate to reflect the new way of working.

Higgs’ employment team will be happy to help support you though this entire process, providing materials to help you manage both the consultation process and any required updates to your policies and contracts.

Legal Update #3 - What’s at the end of the Road(map)?

We know that many employers are beginning to prepare for the anticipated easing of lockdown restrictions as set out in the government’s Roadmap.  At present, the government has not yet published any guidance as to the safety measures that will still be required in workplaces following the final relaxation of restrictions after the final step of the current roadmap is reached (no sooner than 21 June 2021).

However, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy has announced that the department is consulting with businesses about the introduction of long-term social distancing measures to bring workers safely back to the office and that possible strategies include the implementation of six months of social distancing each year and the longer-term use of masks and plastic screens in workplaces.  Employers should, therefore, be prepared for at least some safety measures to remain in place for quite some time.

 

 

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