Is a radical reform of employment law on the cards?

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In their Green Paper ‘A new deal for working people’, the Labour Party announced proposals for transformational changes to employment law, placing a particular focus on ‘pay, security, inequality and discrimination’. Given the outcome of the local elections appear to support the likelihood of a Labour Government in the imminent general election, it raises the question of whether a radical reform of employment law is now on the cards.

Labour’s proposals would certainly swing the pendulum of power towards employees and workers, with the plan to create a single status for employees and workers, and the creation of employment protection from day one, an increased minimum wage, and more family-friendly rights and protection. Labour also plans to change the employment landscape by banning firing and re-hiring and giving employees the right to disconnect. 

Could these proposed reforms change the employment environment and create a nation of responsible, progressive employers, and positively impact talent attraction, productivity, and staff retention? Or are these measures going to impose greater risk and financial burden on small and medium sized businesses that are already stretched to their limits?

Single Employment Status

At present, there are three main categories of employment status – employees, workers and self-employed – each with differing rights assigned to them. Labour proposes to create a single ‘worker’ status to apply to both workers and employees, while retaining a separate category for the self-employed. 

Whilst there could be some merit in creating a more simplified approach, the creation of a single category could have quite significant consequences for businesses and industries who work with casual workers and consultants, who may not qualify as self-employed under Labour’s proposals. These groups do not currently qualify for benefits such as holiday and sick pay, pension, parental rights, and protection under unfair dismissal, they could if Labour goes ahead with its plans. As a result, businesses who may be impacted by this will need to review the status of their staff and budget for the financial ramifications of more individuals acquiring rights that they do not currently have.

Unfair Dismissal Rights

Protection from unfair dismissal was originally introduced under Edward Heath’s Conservative Government in 1971, with employees currently qualifying for this protection after almost two-years’ of service. Whilst this qualifying period has changed several times, Labour’s pledge to remove the qualifying period altogether, and give workers this protection from day one, could have significant consequences for businesses, placing more focus on recruitment due diligence and people management once employed. 

It is worth keeping in mind the potentially significant financial risks a successful claim by an employee can create for a business. Whilst the removal of the cap on compensatory awards for unfair dismissal, as proposed in the Green Paper, would only apply to employers who find themselves liable, it is likely to result in employers being more risk averse, especially around dismissals.

Directors may also find themselves exposed as Labour plan to hold Directors personally liable for any unpaid money awarded to workers, meaning in the event of a potential business liquidation, workers could bring claims against the Directors’ personal wealth. 

‘Fire and Rehire’ Practices

Labour have also set out proposals to tackle the ‘fire and rehire’ of employees, a practice where a business dismisses someone who has refused contractual changes and then re-hires them under the new terms. The Green Paper identifies three areas that need to change to stop this practice, including:

 Improving information and consultation procedures to ensure workers are involved in the contractual changes;

Making changes to trade union notice and balloting to allow for defensive action to be taken when this action occurs; and

Adapting dismissal and redundancy legislation to prevent dismissals based on the non-acceptance of contractual changes.

Further Reforms

The Green Paper also calls for an increased minimum wage, a right for workers to disconnect from work and employer communications, day one statutory sick pay, extension of paternity and maternity rights, and pregnancy protection with regard to return to work – all of which could have huge consequences for small and independent businesses. 

A New Deal

The Green Paper clearly states Labour’s intentions to strengthen employee rights, reset the balance of power and place the onus on the employer to protect all employees from day one of their employment. Whilst it will be interesting to see whether Labour fulfil their commitment of introducing a bill within 100 days of gaining power, (and when the changes then become law), it’s important that businesses get up to speed with these potential changes and are aware of the steps they would need to take to be legally compliant. 

At Loch Associates Group, we can help you map your business through these potential reforms. We have created a special Level Up webinar that will consider the possible changes in Government and how this could impact employees and employers. 

This FREE online event takes place on the 11th July 9.30-10.30 and will be led by myself and Ben Holt, Managing Director of Loch HR and Amy White, Head of Loch Training and Wellbeing. 

Free online seminar July 11

To pre-register for this webinar please visit
www.lochassociates.co.uk/level-up