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Employment law changes in 2024

Written by: Sophie Wahba
Published on: 7 May 2024
Category:

Business

Image © Daenin / Adobe Stock

Employment law is in a constant state of flux as it reflects the demands of the modern workplace.

As a result, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a number of important changes have been made that will alter the legal landscape in 2024.

The Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) Regulations 2023

The Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) Regulations 2023 modifies the Equality Act 2010 and came into force on 1 January 2024.

In practical terms, these regulations protect against discrimination, which would otherwise have ceased to apply following Brexit.

They strengthen protection in relation to discrimination in a number of ways. In particular, the legal definition of disability has been extended. Similarly, indirect discrimination by association has been extended to cover individuals who do not have the relevant protected characteristic, but who suffer similar disadvantages to those who do hold the protected characteristic if the disadvantage is due to an employer’s policy, provision or criterion.

A “single source” test for equal pay comparators has been adopted into UK law, which means that workers do not have to have the same employer, or even an associated employer, to be able to make an equal pay comparison.

Also, protection against direct discrimination has been extended. Less favourable treatment on the ground of breastfeeding is now classed as direct sex discrimination and, at the same time, more favourable treatment on the grounds of maternity is permitted.

And additional protection is given to employees after they return from maternity leave in relation to certain types of unfavourable treatment.

Holiday pay and entitlement reforms

Introduced on 1 January this year, changes to the Working Time Regulations simplify holiday entitlement and holiday pay calculations for irregular hours workers and part-year workers. These rules apply to relevant workers from their first holiday year starting on or after 1 April.

Fire and rehire: statutory code

The government announced on 19 February that a new Code of Practice designed to regulate the “firing and re-hiring” of staff had been published.

The code covers the steps employers need to take when consulting with employees over proposed changes to their employment contracts or as part of a redundancy exercise. Failure to follow the code correctly could result in a 25% uplift to a tribunal award.

Paternity leave

The Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024 came into force on 8 March. It allows fathers and partners, where the expected week of childbirth or placement of adoption is after 6 April, to take their leave in two non-consecutive blocks of a week each rather than two consecutive weeks (or one week only) as is the case now.

This leave can be taken at any point in the 52 weeks after birth, rather than the first 8 weeks after adoption or birth. Also, the notice period for alerting employers of their intention to take leave has been reduced from 15 weeks before the child’s due date to 4 weeks (other than domestic adoption, which remains as within 7 days of being matched with a child).

Unpaid carer’s leave

From 6 April, employees who are carers for dependants with (defined) long-term care needs became entitled to take one week’s unpaid leave per year. This is available to all employees from the first day of their employment. The leave can be taken as a block or as individual days within a 12-month period.

Minimum notice periods need to be adhered to and although employers cannot decline a request for leave, they can postpone it within certain parameters. Employers are strongly encouraged to update their absence and leave policies to reflect this change as a matter of priority.

Flexible working: day-one right

The Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023 from 6 April this year removed the current 26-week qualifying period to make a flexible working request. In other words, employees will have the right to make a flexible working request from the first day of their employment, rather than having to wait for 26 weeks.

In addition to this day one right, employees will be able to make two flexible working requests in any 12-month period, and they no longer have to make a business case for their request.

Employers, in turn, must respond to an employee’s request within two months (rather than the current three) and must consult with an employee before rejecting a request. Employers that haven’t already amended their flexible working policy should think about doing so now.

Protection against redundancy extended

Under the law, employees who were on maternity leave, shared parental leave or adoption leave have for some time been offered special protection against redundancy.

The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023 now extends this protection to also cover pregnant employees and employees who have recently returned from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.

Pregnant employees will be protected from redundancy from the time they inform their employer of their pregnancy until 18 months after childbirth.

Those on adoption leave and shared parental leave are also protected for 18 months from the date of their child’s placement or birth.

Transfer of undertakings (protection of employment) rights consultation changes

Legislation that protects employees and their benefits when their employment changes hands is to be altered from 1 July. From that date, The Employment Rights (Amendment, Revocation and Transitional Provision) Regulations 2023 will change Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment)-related consultation requirements for smaller businesses.

Businesses with fewer than 50 employees will not have to elect employee representatives, and neither will those where fewer than 10 employees are to be transferred.

Predictable working patterns

The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act 2023, expected to come into force in September 2024, introduces a new statutory right for employees and workers to request a more predictable working pattern subject to eligibility criteria.

Workers with variable hours, those on fixed-term contracts of less than 12 months and agency workers are likely to benefit from this new right. Rules exist around the number of applications that can be made a year (two) and the way in which employers deal with requests.

Six grounds are listed on which to refuse a request, such as planned structural changes and the burden of additional costs.

Protection from harassment

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023 is due to come into force in October. This will place a positive duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect their employees against sexual harassment. The purpose of this is to make workplaces a safer environment for all workers.

If employers are found to have breached this new duty, Employment Tribunal will have the power to increase compensation by up to 25%.

The definition of “reasonable steps” will be the subject of guidance in time.

In summary

These changes are important for employers – and employees – to get to grips with. A breach of any one of them could see an employer facing a claim in the Employment Tribunal.

Revisiting procedures and policies is essential.