Through COVID-19, UK employment law rumbled on

By Jill Evans, Law Content Analyst, CIPD 

At the beginning of April most organisations attention was fixed on how Coronavirus would affect our everyday lives . Managers were getting to grips with remote working and furloughing, and some were dealing with closing businesses. They may not have noticed some small but significant changes to employment law coming into force but, as lockdown begins to ease, those people professionals not involved in ensuring the safety of their returning workforce should carry out a health check on their basic procedures to make sure they are fully compliant with the new laws. 

Most of the changes stem from the Good work plan and came into force in the first week in April 2020, including amendments to: 

  • Written statements 
  • Calculating holiday pay 
  • Agency workers’ rights 
  • Statutory rates 
  • Bereavement leave and pay
  • Neonatal leave and pay 

Both employees and workers are now entitled to receive a written statement of their basic terms on the first day of employment. Workers engaged prior to the enforcement date can request a statement, and employers have one month to provide it. 

In addition to details on hours, pay and holidays, the statement must now also contain information on any probationary period, any variable days or hours of working, additional benefits, and training required for the job. Employers must provide information on sick pay, pensions, collective agreements, and disciplinary and grievance procedures, within two months of the employee’s or worker’s start date.  

The way holiday pay is calculated has changed too. From 6 April, workers with variable hours should have their holiday pay assessed on their average pay over the last 52 weeks. Previously the averaging period was 12 weeks which disadvantaged seasonal workers. 

Agency workers are now entitled to a ‘key information document’ before agreeing terms with their agency, specifying the type of contract involvedtheir pay rate, and which company will be paying them. They’ll also have full pay parity with a hirer’s direct recruits after 12 weeks in an assignment through the closure of a legal loopholeknown as the Swedish derogation, in the Agency Workers Regulations 2010This could push up the cost of using agency workers significantly. 

Most employers will have noted the usual upgrades in the National Living/Minimum Wage (now £8.21 an hour for a 25-year old). The statutory rates for maternity pay and sick pay have risen to £151.20 and £95.85 a week respectively and the maximum award for unfair dismissal is now £88,519.  

Organisations may not know about a new right to two weeks’ bereavement leave, paid at the statutory rate for employees with 26 weeks’ service. Employees may claim the leave and pay following the death of a child under 18 years or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

The government has also committed to introducing new entitlement to leave and pay for employed parents with babies in neonatal units. Parents will receive one week’s leave for every week their newborn (28 days old or less) spends in a neonatal unit, capped at a maximum of 12 weeks, as a ‘day one’ rightThey are entitled to statutory pay if they have 26 weeks’ service. Details on how the leave will be taken are still to be confirmed, but this is likely to be in blocks of one or more weeks taken after maternity/paternity leave. The new rules will take effect in 2023. 

One measure due to come in – the extension of IR35 to the private sector – has been postponed until April 2021 because of the Coronavirus crisis and the Equality and Human Rights Commission has suspended enforcement measures against employers who fail to publish their gender pay gap reports this year. 

Case law decisions are continuing to emerge during the pandemicThe Supreme Court decided in April, in the case Morrison Supermarkets v Various Claimants (2020), that Morrisons was not liable for the names, addresses, bank account details and salaries of over 100,000 of its staff being posted on a file sharing site by a disgruntled employee (he was subsequently sentenced to eight years for fraud). The supermarket chain was able to prove it had appropriate safeguards in place for handling sensitive personal information but was still taken to the highest level of appeal by the 5,500 employee claimants in the case over whether it was liable for its employee’s wrongdoingIn this case, the court found it was not. Employers need to ensure their own data protection procedures and insurance cover are adequate for such unforeseen events. 

To keep up to date with significant employment law developments, go to our Recent and forthcoming legislation page.  

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