Employment Law can be complex so it’s vital to stay on top of the latest legislation. Over the past year, there have been a number of key developments which affect businesses of all sizes. Read the following summary by Shiva Shadi, head of Emplyment, which gives a comprehensive overview of what organisations need to be aware of to ensure they’re both complaint and up to date…
The Bribery Act:
The Bribery Act continues to be a crucial piece of legislation for businesses. It created new offences which can be committed by commercial organisations which fail to prevent persons associated with them from bribing another person on their behalf. All organisations will have to have specific procedures in place in order to have a defence to such offences that may be committed by their employees.
Social media continues to grow at an incredible pace and whilst creating opportunities for businesses it has also created challenges. It is now crucial to have a Social Media/Internet Policy in place to prevent legal liabilities; whether the use is for business or for private purposes. The most damaging can include comments made by employees on the company or its products that are posted on sites such as Facebook or Twitter.
The increased use of apprentices has recently been addressed and new legislation came in to force under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children, and Learning Act. Employers need to be careful as to how they categorise apprentices as they have certain additional responsibilities for apprentices employed under a Contract of Apprenticeship which can actually affect an employer’s ability to terminate the apprenticeship before the expiry of the fixed term. If unfairly dismissed, such apprentices would not only have a right to an unfair dismissal claim and damages but should they succeed, also damages for loss of training for the remainder of the term and for loss of future career prospects.
Managing sickness absence continues to be crucial for small and medium sized businesses so it is important that non-sickness related absences, otherwise called “Mondayitus”, are minimised. However, in doing so, employers need to be conscious of genuine absences due to sickness which in certain circumstances will involve seeking a medical report. They also need to be aware of whether the absences are caused by matters such as stress, bullying or disability. Sickness that coincides with periods of annual leave will now also cause headaches for employers. Recent case law has indicated that an employee who is on annual leave, but then falls sick, can ask to take those particular days at a different time in the year. Unless organisations have a specific policy on requiring employees to report sickness during annual leave – and requiring a note from the employee’s doctor – it may prevent them from being able to refuse such a request.
The increase of the unfair dismissal qualifying period from one year to two years came into effect in April 2012. This should enable companies to remove staff more easily, and to avoid the threat of vexatious claims which waste management time and incur unnecessary fees that can be difficult for SME’s to cope with.
Introduction of Fees for Claimants:
The introduction of fees for Claimants who wish to issue Tribunal claims, are due to come into effect in April 2013. This is a positive step in favour of employers and may discourage Claimants from ‘trying it on’, and which in turn may reduce the number of claims being issued.
Retirement & Age Discrimination:
Retirement and age discrimination following the removal of the default retirement age of 65 is another key issue. Until more cases have been heard, it is difficult for companies to know how easily they can retire individuals, and what age can be relied upon by employers wishing to take this step. Employers must therefore tread carefully in the interim.
For small companies, it is essential that they have valid clauses in place in the contracts of senior employees in order to prevent any damage being caused to their business if an employee moves on. The ever changing law in this area is hard to keep track of and many clauses will already be out of date and therefore invalid if companies try to rely upon them in the future.
The Agency Workers Regulations:
Smaller companies often rely on temps as a cheaper method of replacing absent staff. The AWR will have a financial impact upon companies which must now provide the same financial package to temps as they do to permanent full time employees if the temp stays with the company for 12 weeks or more. Businesses will therefore need to consider alternative working arrangements – including an increase in fixed term contracts – if they wish to avoid the impact of these regulations.