HR ยท 10 August 2015

The key micro business employment law changes for 2015: Part one

Sickness absence can have a huge impact on smaller businesses
Sickness absence can have a huge impact on smaller businesses

New government funded occupational health service to go live in April 2015

Not a legislation change, but I felt it was an important item to include for early-stage firms, as sickness absence can have a huge impact on smaller businesses and, it is a new free service aimed at helping employees off sick leave and back into work.

It offers free telephone advice and web based information (available now) and a government-funded assessment by an occupational health professional for employees who are off sick for four weeks or more (being rolled out across the UK this year).

There are many restrictions in how an employer can use this service, but it is free so may have some worth. If your employee is referred to an occupational health professional a return to work plan will be devised and shared with you, your employee and their GP. The idea is for everyone to work together with the aim of overcoming barriers to your employee returning to work. However, we all know how well the fit notes worked ? and your employee does not have to agree to any referral.

By the way, if you are a small employer and you were wondering where the money went when your right to reclaim statutory sick pay (where the total SSP paid in a month exceeded 13 per cent of the employer’s Class 1 National Insurance contributions for that month) ? it apparently helped fund this new service.

There is also a general view that if you do not follow a return to work plan and the individual was deemed to be disabled, requiring reasonable adjustments to be considered, this would be taken into account by a tribunal when considering whether any subsequent capability dismissal was fair.

Zero-hours contracts (ZHC)

This is another area of employment law that has been much discussed during?2015 ? ranging from those arguing for a total ban of zero-hours contracts to at those pressing?for making exclusivity clauses in zero-hour contracts illegal. It is generally considered that?we are still only part way there. The SBEEA (Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015) Section 153 recently enabled the government?s aim to ban exclusivity clauses within zero-hour contracts. This is the contractual clause that prohibits a worker from working for someone else, or first having to obtain their employer?s permission to accept any other work.

However, the aligned regulations that will give the sting in the tail for non-compliance (anti-avoidance regulations) are still in draft form with no given date for implementation. Therefore, workers currently have no real power to enforce this ban on an exclusivity clause. At?present the government seems to have only nominally complied with its aim and the ban at the moment is more a case of best practice rather than a strict legal enforcement. It is generally expected that the anti-avoidance regulations will come into force to align to this change.

Extension of the right to request flexible working

Home worker

This right actually came into force in June 2014. However, I have recently met a couple of small firms?which were unaware of this change, so I thought I should include it here.

The right to request flexible working was extended to all employees who have 26 weeks? service, rather than just those who qualify as parents or carers. There is also a statutory procedure to follow and a duty on employer to deal with a request in a reasonable manner. Again I would recommend that you have a flexible working procedure within your employee handbook to give clear guidance to both managers and employees what is needed. If you want to read more about this extended right you can access a couple of guides?here.

Changes due to the Tribunal Service

Restricting applications to postpone Employment Tribunal?hearings

Regulations will amend the rules of procedure?with the aim to limit the number of postponements requested by a party. Currently in draft, their aim will be to put a limit of two postponement requests in any case. Any further application made less than seven days before the hearing or at the hearing, will be granted only in exceptional circumstances. Of course, there will be exemptions built in where a tribunal can consider a postponement is allowed to facilitate settlement, or where the need for a postponement is due to an act or omission by the tribunal or another party to the claim.

Fines for non-payment of ET awards

This will introduce a scheme for penalising employers who fail to pay tribunal awards or settlement sums. You get one warning notice then a financial penalty will be imposed unless it is paid by the requested date. The financial penalty will be set at 50 per cent of the unpaid sum and subject to a minimum of ?100 ? maximum of ?5,000 penalty (depending on individual circumstances). If the employer pays both the unpaid relevant sum and the penalty within 14 days the amount of the penalty will be reduced by 50 per cent.

National Minimum Wage (NMW) ? fines increased

The penalty for not paying the NMW is now up to ?20,000 and most significantly, will now be applied to each worker who has not been paid the required NMW. Previously the fine was per notice, irrespective of the number of underpaid workers. This is a significant increase and financial risk to those employers who breach this legislation.

Pensions and auto-enrolment

Not a new law, but I cannot do an update without a quick reminder that from July 2015 and across 2017, staging dates for small and micro employers will start rolling out. Your staging date will have been based on the size of your PAYE scheme as of 1 April 2012, or if you are a new business (after this date) then the date you started trading. Penalties for non-compliance range from ?50-?10,000 per day. Feedback is that it can take you longer than you think to get the best scheme for you and your business, so if you have not done so already, it is time to take action. For more detail on this topic, I have put together an overview here.

Keep a look out for the second part of this guide to?employment law changes, coming up this time next week. It will cover redundancy, statutory rates and holiday pay.

Image: Shutterstock

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Carole is as a freelance senior HR consultant with over 18 years experience in supporting small businesses. She founded HR Support for Business to provide an affordable, but still professional, outsourced HR Support service for micro and small businesses looking for guidance.