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Changes to employment law 2024 – what practices need to know

2 May 2024

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There’s been a slew of important updates to employment law that practices need to be aware of. HR expert Liz Willett gives a brief summary of the changes and explains what action practice managers should take.

Last month saw a substantial number of changes to employment law, which will have an impact on HR policies and people management processes at GP practices.

Here is a round up of the key new amendments:

Carer’s leave rights – under the Carer’s Leave Act 2023

This piece of legislation is aimed at giving employees who have caring responsibility for a disabled or infirm adult the right to request one week’s unpaid leave per year. The person dependent upon them for care does not have to be a family member; it could be a neighbour, for example.  An employee has this right from day one of employment and doesn’t  have to give proof of their caring responsibility – they need only be asked to make a declaration confirming their entitlement.  

An individual can take the leave in periods of days, half days or the full week.  Employees should give reasonable notice and employers cannot refuse the leave, only delay it within a reasonable time of the date requested.

Please ensure your policies are updated accordingly and where appropriate  speak to your HR or policy provider.

Extending redundancy protection for those who are pregnant and on maternity leave – under the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023

Employees on maternity leave currently have the right to be offered any suitable alternative vacancy in a redundancy situation. The changes to legislation that came into force this April now offer additional protection if redundancy is applied to pregnant employees from the moment they inform an employer of their pregnancy.  The period of protection is also extended to 18 months following the birth of the child.  In addition, this protection applies to adopting parents and to parents taking shared parental leave. 

In general practice, although redundancies aren’t common, if you do find yourself in a redundancy situation it’s worth remembering that expecting mothers and new parents may well have first rights to suitable alternative employment over other employees.

Again, practices should ensure your policies are updated accordingly and speak to their HR or policy provider where necessary.

Changes to flexible working requests – under the Flexible Working (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Possibly the most controversial updates to employment rights are the changes to flexible working rights. An employee can now make a statutory flexible working request from day one of employment – they previously they required 26 week’s service.  They may also make two requests in a year (previously it was one). 

An employer must consider and respond to the request within two months (it was three) and it must now consider the impact of the request on the employee as well as the business and must consult with the employee before refusing a request.  Employees do not need to explain the effect of the proposed change on the business or how it may be dealt with while making their request. The eight statutory reasons for refusing a request remain the same. They are:

  •  the burden of additional costs
  • an inability to reorganise work amongst existing staff
  • an inability to recruit additional staff
  • a detrimental impact on quality
  • a detrimental impact on performance
  • a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand
  • insufficient work available for the periods the employee proposes to work
  • planned structural changes to the employer’s business.

As before, an employee’s flexible working request must be in writing and specify the change requested and when they want it to start. An employer should agree a request if they reasonably can.  If they can’t agree to it as it’s set out, it should seek to compromise and consult with the employee.

If the request is refused this has to be given in writing and while an employee doesn’t have the statutory right to appeal, it is good practice to allow this.

ACAS has updated its Code of Practice on flexible working, which can be accessed here.

Practices should make sure that their flexible working policy is updated and forms are up to date.

Allowing rolled up holiday pay for irregular hours workers or part-year workers – under the Employment Rights (Amendment, Revocation and Transitional Provision) Regulations 2023

This legislation was brought in to address recent tribunal rulings that essentially awarded term time workers and irregular hours worker a potential for greater holiday pay pro rata than their full-time equivalent colleagues.  This also reinstates the 12.07% calculation for statutory holiday pay as a proportion of hours worked, which is a welcome return for HR and payroll.

The law now allows for employers to pay an additional amount representing holiday pay for each pay period throughout the year, instead of paying holiday pay at the time that annual leave is taken – this is known as rolled up holiday pay.  The change applies to holiday pay periods beginning 1April 2024 or later.  Pay slips must specify holiday pay in order for this to be documented.

This law only applies to irregular hours or seasonal workers, it does not apply to those on a fixed hours contract with no variation, who should receive holiday pay as normal.

Employees who undertake overtime must still accrue holiday pay for their overtime payments based upon their ‘normal pay’ in a reference period, there has been no change to this requirement.  This does not apply if the worker takes the time as time off in lieu (TOIL).

This remains a complex area of employment law and you would be well advised to take advice from your Payroll providers regarding how you calculate and document holiday pay for people who work regular overtime or work irregular hours.

Strengthening  of  workplace sexual harassment laws – under the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023

This only comes into force in October this year but practices would be well advised to start preparing now.

The law means employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of their workers in the course of their employment.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission is developing a new code of practice on sexual harassment in the workplace but its current guide is here.

Although it is generally assumed sexual harassment is more often carried out by men towards women, employers cannot be complacent even in general practice where there tends to be more female staff overall. Women can sexually harass others be they male, female or non-binary. 

Practices’ mandatory training providers will be updating their training modules so it is essential that you monitor training compliance. 

Additional good practice would include:

– discussing the training following implementation

– undertaking monitoring and surveys to look for signs or reports of sexual harassment

– taking proactive measures to ensure that harassment is identified and eradicated early on.

Policies should also be updated accordingly.

Updates to spent convictions of offenders – under amendments to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

As of October 2023, the types of offences of convictions that are never ‘spent’ has been refined.  Now all convictions other than serious sexual, violent or terrorist offences are spent after 7 years.  This will have little impact on roles where enhanced checks are undertaken but those standard disclosures will be updated according to the new regulations.

Other HR updates that are pending or of interest

  • TUPE changes for when fewer than 10 employees transfer. This came into force in January 2024 and reduces the requirement for election of employee representatives for small transfers.
  • Statutory code of practice on ‘fire and rehire’ – expected summer 2024
  • Right to request more predictable terms and conditions of work, including a predictable working pattern – from September 2024
  • Neonatal Care Leave – due April 2025
  • Meanwhile, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has released an informative guide to employers on menopause that can be accessed here. 

Liz Willett Chartered MCIPD is Managing Director at Kraft HR Ltd, which works closely with practices, federations and PCNs in the Midlands and further afield