In an announcement of the Conservative Party’s election pledges, Theresa May promised to create “the greatest expansion of workers’ rights” by any Conservative government, but where does this leave employers?
A new series of policies would extend rights to unpaid leave, offer workers in the flexible economy further parental entitlement and reform disability discrimination in the UK. The prime minister also guaranteed to uphold all workers rights currently held through EU law.
Here, Business Advice explains how the Conservative Party workplace rights pledges would affect the owners of small companies in Britain should the party win the upcoming general election.
Unpaid leave for carers
Extending the right to unpaid leave sits at the top of the Conservative Party workplace rights pledges. For employees with a duty of care over a relative, employers would be obliged to offer a year unpaid leave, while holding the position open for the employee’s return.
For Suzanne Horne, head of the international employment practice at law firm Paul Hastings, the prospect of unpaid leave for workers could be “especially taxing” for small business owners.
“Employers already accommodate maternity, paternity, parental and adoption leaves, and soon will be required to accommodate grandparents on leave too, so it’s difficult to see how they can find more flexibility to cover further long leaves of absence – no matter how compelling,” Horne said in a statement.
May has pledged to invest in so-called “returnships” for mothers returning to work after spending time raising a family. Funding would be given for training to support a return to working life.
Alan Price, HR director at Peninsula, suggested the plan could help create a positive relationship between employers and their workforce.
“Employers who embrace these changes are more likely to improve employee engagement in their firms as employees continue to try to balance their working life with their life out of work,” Price said.
Ethnicity pay gap reporting
To extend the policy of gender pay gap reporting, introduced for larger businesses in April 2017, May announced plans to address racial inequality in the workplace through scrutiny of ethnicity pay gaps.
Commenting on the efforts to promote equality in ethnicity, Petra Wilton, the Chartered Management Institute’s director of strategy, suggested employers would only benefit from greater levels of diversity.
“The evidence is increasingly clear: diversity in the workplace delivers results,” Wilton said.
“After the progress we’ve seen this year in eliminating the gender pay gap, it’s encouraging to see the focus extend to addressing racial inequality in the workplace. Research suggests that most businesses lack data about their employees’ ethnicity, and for many it’s a more complex area to navigate than gender equality.”
Gig economy workers
Further rights for gig economy workers would see the extension of existing maternity and paternity allowances into the flexible economy.
Applying these protections could increase the administrative burden for employers with on-demand staff, as well as the wage bill if statutory payments were to be made.
The incoming government would also listen to the findings published in the Taylor Review after the general election. The review is set to outline solutions to ongoing debate surrounding “bogus” self-employment in Britain.
Extend laws on disability discrimination
May has previously pledged to “transform” the treatment of mental health in the workplace, and the new Conservative Party workplace rights pledges include an extension of disability discrimination laws to include short-term mental health conditions.
The Equalities Act would be amended to protect workers suffering from depression and anxiety.
National Living Wage
The Conservative Party workplace rights agenda moved away from existing government policy that would see the National Living Wage (NLW) reach £9 per hour by April 2020.
Instead, the rate would rise in line with average earnings over the next three years. Going by Bank of England forecasts, which predict an earnings increase of four per cent by 2019, the NLW would be under £9 per hour by 2020.
A red tape agenda
Horne suggested the Conservative Party workplace rights agenda would “only result in more red tape for employers”, with smaller firms in particular at risk.
“More employment rights means more workforce planning at a time when employers are already juggling the challenges that come from existing statutory rights,” she warned.
Find out more about the major employment law changes set to affect employers in 2017
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