This month, the plums in our Christmas employment news pudding are: ‘law in a cold climate’ (dealing with severe weather related absence); next year’s statutory payment rates and limits; DH guidance on staff transfers; and an update on the review of the Public Sector Equality Duties. And Stop Press - Government announces reduced collective redundancy consultation period. Sarah Maddock reports.

Law in a cold climate

The potential for difficult weather conditions is never far off at this chilly time of year, so now would be a good time to take out and defrost your policies and procedures on dealing with absence related to inclement weather.  If you are putting pen to paper and drafting up such policies, or overhauling your existing policies, you may wish to consider the following points.

  • Your first port of call will be to check what your policies and procedures have to say about unauthorised unexpected absences, and whether these specifically cover absence by reason of severe weather conditions.
  • Employees often (wrongly) believe that they are entitled to be paid if they are absent from work because of snow, floods, or high wind.  This is not the case – although, of course, it is always open to employers to be more generous and allow employees paid leave where they are unable to get to work because of severe weather conditions.  Alternatively, you may wish to require employees to use annual leave (if available) to cover this absence; or require them to make up the time later. 
  • It may be possible to put in place alternative arrangements for employees unable to get to work, such as remote working. Alternatively, or in addition to this, you may want to consider contingency plans for unexpected absence – e.g. can staff from another area of your organisation be drafted in to cover?
  • Some employees may be able to get into work themselves, but are unable to attend because schools or nurseries are shut due to staff absence. In these circumstances, they may be entitled to take time off as emergency leave for dependants (for which there is no automatic entitlement to be paid).  Employees taking such leave should be treated equally with their colleagues, but bear in mind that the leave is designed to allow employees to make alternative arrangements; not to undertake the care itself.
  • However you decide to deal with unexpected staff absence, remember that you must act fairly, in a non-discriminatory way and in accordance with any policies which are already operating.

If any of this strikes a chord with you, or if you have any queries, please do get in touch.  The team has a wealth of experience of drafting policies for, and advising on, this type of situation.

New statutory payment rates & limits

Details of statutory payment limits for 2013 have now been published. 

Notable changes are

  • the limit on the amount of a week's pay for the purposes of calculating, amongst other things, statutory redundancy payments and the basic award for unfair dismissal will increase from £430 to £450.
  • The maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal goes up from £72,300 to £74,200.
  • The minimum basic award in cases where the dismissal was unfair by virtue of health and safety, employee representative, trade union, or occupational pension trustee reasons will increase from £ 5,300 to £ 5,500.

The new rates apply where the event giving rise to compensation or payment occurs on or after 1 February 2013. For example, in the case of unfair dismissal the rates apply to all dismissals where the effective date of termination falls on or after this date. Where the dismissal or relevant event falls before 1 February, the old limits will still apply, irrespective of the date on which compensation is awarded.

It has also been announced (as part of the Autumn Statement that statutory sick pay, statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay and statutory adoption pay will increase by 1% a year for three years from April 2013.

Public health transfers: guidance issued

The Department of Health has published guidance on the transfer of public health staff under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 reforms.

The guidance

  • defines ‘Transfer Schemes’ and ‘Transfer Orders’
  • describes what the ‘sender’ and ‘receiver’ organisations need to do; and
  • sets out key deadlines.

Review of public sector equality duty

The Home Office has published the terms of reference for the review of the public sector equality duties (PSED) in Part 11 of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010).  The review will take into account the budgetary position facing public bodies and will

  • examine evidence about the effectiveness of the general duty (under section 149 of the EqA 2010) and the specific duties (implemented under section 153 of the EqA 2010) from public bodies who have an obligation to fulfill the PSED and from those organisations upon whom the duty has impacted.
  • Explore the impact of the PSED in terms of costs, burdens and benefits.
  • Consider how the duty functions in the context of the Government's equality strategy and its new approach to achieving change, including transparency, devolving power to people and integrating equality considerations into policy and programmes.

A steering group is due to meet from this month onwards, to conduct evidence-gathering exercises and then prepare a report based on its analysis of the evidence obtained.

STOP PRESS - collective redundancy consultation period reduced

As Employment Eye went to press yesterday, the Government announced that, from April 2013, the collective redundancy consultation period will be reduced from 90 to 45 days.  The stated intention is that this will avoid unnecessary delays, and afford employers greater certainty and flexibility.  The Government has also announced plans to exclude fixed term contracts from collective agreements.  We will keep you posted on further details, when they are published.