News Round-up

Mike Smith reports on the latest developments in employment law news.

24/02/2010

Right to Request Time Off to Train

On 1 February 2010, the Employee Study and Training (Eligibility, Complaints and Remedies) Regulations 2010 were laid before Parliament. Both sets of Regulations are due to come into force on 6 April 2010 and contain a new right for employees to request time off in order to undertake study or training.  From this date it will only apply to employees of employers with 250 or more employees but it has been indicated that this will extend to all employees a year later.

Government Response to Fit Note Consultation

The Social Security (Medical Evidence) Regulations and the Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) (Amendment) Regulations 2010 will introduce the new statement of fitness to work ("fit notes") for use by GPs from 6 April 2010.   The consultation response on this issue clarified a number of pertinent issues such as:-

  • GPs will only be able to certify one of two options: "not fit for work" or "may be fit for work" and
  • The "fit note" will list the common types of changes employers can introduce to assist a return to work: "a phased return to work", "amended duties", "altered hours" and "workplace adaptations".

The Government intends to publish further specific guidance for individuals, employers and healthcare professionals in the near future.

Plans for Flexible Working for all Employees

It has been reported that the Department for Work and Pensions has been working to draw up new ways of supporting men as well as women, and non-parents as well as parents to work more flexible hours, thereby extending the current legislation (which only covers parents with children under 16 and carers at present). 

We will update you as soon as there are any further developments.

Equality Bill: Occupational Requirements relaxed for Religious Organisations

On 25 January the House of Lords blocked amendments to the Equality Bill which would have made it illegal for churches to avoid appointing staff whose lifestyle is inconsistent with religious doctrine, such as homosexuals and transsexuals.

Currently, religious organisations have an exemption from anti-discrimination employment law which allows them to rule out some applicants on conscientious grounds.  The Government had tried to amend the Bill so that the equality exemptions applied only to those whose jobs "wholly or mainly" involved taking part in services or rituals, or explaining the doctrines of religion.  This was rejected and the current drafting still stands whereby organised religions have a special status that lets them turn down applicants where their lifestyles conflict with the church’s beliefs. 

Regulations published for Additional Paternity Leave and Pay

The Government has now published six sets of draft regulations to bring in the introduction of additional paternity leave and pay. The regulations will come into force on 6 April 2010 and are applicable to parents of babies due on or after 3 April 2011 and for adoptive parents who are notified of having been matched with a child on or after that date.

As the law currently stands new fathers are entitled to two weeks' paid paternity leave and mothers to up to a year maternity leave, with 39 weeks paid.  The new Regulations will allow for a mother returning to work before the end of her statutory leave to transfer the rest of her leave entitlement to her partner.  It is stipulated that the child must be at least 20 weeks old for this additional allowance to take effect. The new father will then be paid the statutory maternity pay rate of £124.88 (currently) a week up to the 39-week cut-off period, after which it will be unpaid.

Guidance on the new rights will be put in place before 3 April 2011 to ensure that employers and employees are aware of the changes and are adequately informed of their application.

Agency Workers Regulations 2010 published

The Agency Worker Regulations 2010 have now been published and will implement the Temporary Agency Workers Directive (2008/104/EC).  There are a number of amendments from the draft regulations which were originally published in October 2009.  Some notable ones include:-

  • a revision of the "pay" definition for the purposes of the equal treatment provisions (it now includes bonuses that are directly related to individual performance and vouchers or stamps with a monetary value);
  • tribunals being given discretion to make a minimum award (2 weeks' pay) for equal treatment claims; and
  • pay between assignments and; explanation that periods of absence continue to count towards the 12-week qualifying period where they are for reasons related to pregnancy, childbirth or maternity for a protected period of up to 26 weeks after a woman has had her child.

The Regulations will be in force from 1 October 2011. 

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