Employment law updates: Employment Bill, COVID-19 claims, changing T&Cs

By Jill Evans, Law Content Analyst. 

The government has announced new minimum wage rates for 2022 but has not said when the long-awaited Employment Bill will be published.

The Bill is expected, among other measures, to:

  • Make flexible working the default in employment contracts (the latest consultation on this closed on 1 December).
  • Introduce a week’s unpaid leave for carers to be used for dependants with long-term care needs
  • Create a new right for 12 weeks’ paid neonatal leave for parents of premature babies
  • Make redundancy protection (the right to be offered any suitable alternative employment) start from the notification of pregnancy and finish six months after returning from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave. Currently the protection only operates during the leave.

Without the Bill, we have no dates yet on when these measures will be introduced.

There have been other government commitments (some from Teresa May’s Good work plan) to legislate so that workers:

  • can request a more predictable and stable contract after 26 weeks in a job
  • receive help in exercising their rights from a new, single enforcement body (currently there are three)
  • have the right to receive tips in full.

We have no date for these measures either, but we do have more recommendations on working practices from Matthew Taylor. A ‘Labour market enforcement strategy for 2020 to 2021’, compiled when he was interim director of labour market enforcement, was published by the government on 13 December, focusing on worker experiences in social care, agriculture, construction and hand car washing.

COVID-19 case law

The growth in COVID-19 case law continues. In Prosser v Community Gateway Association, an employer successfully defended suspending a pregnant employee while the workplace was made COVID-secure. In another case, Lough v Taaks of Scotland Ltd, an employee was awarded just over £1,300 for unpaid wages but £18,000 for blowing the whistle on her employer’s non-compliance with rules on furlough and workplace safety.

Employee relations

Trade union activity has stepped up and instances of employers, including British Gas, British Airways and Tesco, using dismissal and re-engagement (‘fire and rehire’) to alter terms and conditions have continued to surface. The latter led to debates in Parliament. Acas published an investigation into fire and rehire in June, and a Private Members Bill outlawing the practice was introduced in October but failed to progress. Acas was then asked to produce new guidance and Changing employment contracts followed in November, highlighting the employee relations and brand risks associated with ‘fire and rehire’ and setting out an alternative ‘information and consultation’ approach.

In case law, the Supreme Court awarded over £420,000 compensation to employees in the case Kostal v Dunkley (2021), having found the employer had bypassed the collective bargaining procedure by offering Christmas bonuses directly to employees in return for revised terms and conditions. In another case, Ryanair v Morais (2021), the Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that removing concessionary travel benefits for a year from pilots who had participated in a strike was unlawful. The government has asked the Court of Appeal to hear the case.

New EU directives

The EU has produced a new whistleblowing directive, coming into force on 17 December, requiring new structures and time limits for handling disclosures, and has also drafted new legislation giving gig workers minimum employments (minimum wage, holidays and so on). The post-Brexit trading deal between the UK and the EU requires a level playing field on employment rights which may mean changing our law on such matters in the future.

Explore our resources on all of these subjects:

Statutory rates and compensation limits info page

Recent and forthcoming legislation info page

Responding to coronavirus content hub

Case law on employment status gig economy in UK courts

Terms and conditions of employment Q&As see Changing contractual terms

'Fire and rehire' – guidance for employers CIPD guidance

Trade union recognition and industrial action Q&As

Employment law: UK, EU and Brexit factsheet

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