Collective redundancy consultation obligations: ‘special circumstances’

In Shanahan Engineering Ltd v Unite the Union,  the Employment Appeal Tribunal (‘the EAT’) confirmed that, even where there are ‘special circumstances’ which mean that employers cannot comply with a 30 day collective consultation period, employers must still fulfil their actual consultation obligations, which can still be carried out in a shorter period of time.

Shanahan, a construction contractor, received instructions from its client to stop work on a construction project within three days.  Consequently, there was an immediate reduction in the workforce, and the collective consultation requirement was triggered.

The EAT held that special circumstances existed in relation to the 30 day time period; but the special circumstances did not absolve Shanahan entirely from its consultation requirements, i.e. they should have carried out as much consultation as possible, even within such a short timescale.  However, the Tribunal had erred in simply awarding a 90 day protective award as there were mitigating factors, and the case was remitted to the Tribunal on this issue.

This case is important, both in the construction industry (where the above scenario is not uncommon) and, more generally, in warning employers that the existence of ‘special circumstances’ still means that information and consultation should take place in whatever time is available, however short that may be.

Reasonable adjustments under the DDA: effectiveness of adjustment is of paramount importance

The case of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Job Centre Plus) and others v Wilson, has reinforced the reasonable adjustment principle, under  section 18 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 as previously set out in Romec Ltd v Rudham.  In Wilson, it was held that:

  • a Tribunal should first consider whether making the adjustment would overcome the disadvantage suffered by the disabled person;
  • and then, only following that, should they consider the other factors set out in section 18, such as whether it was practicable for the employer to take such steps or incur the associated cost. 

So, in good news for employers, it has been confirmed that where there is no prospect of a proposed adjustment removing, or overcoming, a disadvantage, it will not be a reasonable adjustment.  

Government guidance on fit notes published

As indicated in last month’s Employment Eye the Department for Work and Pensions has now completed their consultation with business groups and medical representatives and has published their employer’s guidance on the ‘fit note’.   Reversing the current sick note system, from 6 April 2010 doctors will be required to state when a patient ‘may be fit for work’ and offer advice on the effects of their health condition. Doctors will also be able to suggest temporary changes (such as lighter duties or reduced hours, for example) which they feel will assist a patient's return to work.

April 2011 changes to childcare vouchers: HMRC guidance

On 19 February 2010, HMRC published a technical note providing guidance for employers and employees on the April 2011 changes to the tax treatment of employer-supported childcare.

These changes will apply to directly contracted childcare and childcare vouchers and will only affect higher and additional rate employees who join Employer Supported Childcare schemes on or after 6 April 2011.

New joiners will be entitled, under the new rules, to a reduced amount of tax relief (reduced to the basic rate of income tax, currently at £11) if they are higher or additional rate taxpayer employees.

Taxpayers who already participate in such schemes and basic rate new joiners will continue to enjoy the existing levels of income tax and National Insurance contributions relief, both of which are currently on the first £55 per week.

The changes ensure that all recipients, of whatever tax band, receive approximately the same level of income tax exemption of £11 per week.

New immigration fees from 6 April 2010

Parliament has now approved proposed new immigration fees, which will come into force on 6 April 2010. 

These fees are applicable to those applying to study, visit, work in or stay in the UK.  The UK Border Agency has also announced that they will be revising a number of their application forms on this date.

Statutory pay limits

The Government has announced increases to statutory maternity, paternity, and adoption pay from April 2010.  The standard rate for all three will rise from £123.06 to £124.88 a week. The weekly earnings threshold for these payments will rise from £95 to £97.

Please note, however, that statutory sick pay will remain unchanged at £79.15 a week.