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Employment tribunals

10 April 2017

Employment tribunals - read more

A move towards a more streamlined service looks likely

Much can be read in the legal press about the future of employment tribunals. The simple point at this stage is that we do not know what will happen in due course, but it would appear very likely that tribunal fees are here to stay. There may be some changes to the mechanism with which prospective claimants can avoid the need to pay fees. The mechanism is likely to be simplified and expanded.

There will also likely be a move towards a more streamlined service, with some claims being dealt with online. How that may happen in practice remains to be seen, as many interested in the sector will attest that even the simplest of cases often require detailed evidential analysis which could be difficult to handle via a purely online forum. Perhaps such a move would need the consent of both parties and agreed evidence, but beyond informed speculation, little is clear at this stage.

Employment status

As previously reported, the advent of the ‘gig economy’ has raised issues about organisations that utilise those who hold themselves out to be self-employed operatives. There are also cases such as Uber, where ‘employers’ would rather their operatives were self-employed, leaving the workforce with little choice but to agree to an imposed regime. Either way, employment status will continue to be a developing area with a number of high-profile cases due to be heard this year.

HMRC has also launched an online tool to help determine, for tax purposes, whether individuals are employees or self-employed, and whether they might be covered by IR35 – applicable where an individual supplies his or her services to a client via an intermediary, such as a personal service company. Although not determinative from an employment law perspective – for example, it does not determine ‘worker’ status – it is nevertheless a useful tool.

What to wear

It is likely that workplace dress codes will be a focus of many organisations, and all are encouraged to review their own in light of high-profile cases such as Nicola Thorp’s. Thorp hit the headlines when she raised the archaic requirement of her employer, a personnel firm, to wear high heels in her workplace, an office of PwC (which, for the sake of clarity, was not her employer).

Calls have been made for more stringent laws to protect employees from discrimination. However, the existing protection under legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 was, and remains, available to those who have complaints not adequately addressed through their organisation’s internal mechanisms – for example, the grievance procedure.

Gender pay gap reporting

Organisations covered by the regulations for gender pay gap reporting must publish their first report within 12 months of their ‘snapshot’ date. This is 5 April 2017 for private and voluntary sectors, and 31 March 2017 for the public sector.

There are some key requirements, including the need to provide 14 specific numbers and the placing of information on a searchable UK website accessible to employees and the public. Evidence of compliance must also be provided and the reporting has to be signed off as accurate by a company director, or equivalent for other types of organisation.

If you are unclear about this matter, seek professional advice and/or consider the new ACAS and Government Equalities Office guidance.

Apprenticeship Levy

The Apprenticeship Levy came into force on 6 April. It is effectively a ‘payroll tax’ of 0.5% of an organisation’s total wage bill to be used to finance apprenticeships and is applicable to all private and public sector organisations in the UK with a wage bill over £3 million a year. Estimates suggest 2% of employers – around 200,000 organisations – will pay the levy, and applicable organisations will pay the levy regardless of whether they have, or intend to have, any apprentices.

If you believe you may be affected by the levy, or wish to understand whether you are able to benefit from funding for apprentices, seek further advice.

Trade Union Act 2016

Industrial action is never far from the news, whether it be junior doctors or Southern Rail workers.

Key provisions came into force on 1 March and are generally viewed positively by employers as they make it a little harder for lawful strike action to proceed and, when it does, provides for additional notice to give employers additional time to make arrangements. The provisions include:

  • The requirement that at least 50% of those entitled to vote in a ballot must have voted – this applies to all cases
  • The requirement that 40% of those entitled to vote to have voted ‘yes’ to support industrial action, where those involved in the dispute work in an important public service
  • New rules governing the information that must be included on the ballot paper
  • Increasing the amount of notice of a strike to be given to an employer to 14 days.

Rates round-up

National Minimum Wage

The Government has followed the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission and, as of 1 April, the following hourly rates apply to workers:

  • National living wage, for workers aged 25 and over, is £7.50
  • Standard adult rate, for workers aged between 21 and 24, is £7.05
  • Development rate, for workers aged between 18 and 20, is £5.60
  • Young workers rate, for workers aged under 18, but above the compulsory school age who are not apprentices, is £4.05
  • Apprentices are paid £3.50.

The consequences of failure to pay the appropriate rate can be hugely significant. They include, but are not limited to, claims in the employment tribunals, notices of underpayment from HMRC, plus other measures such as ‘naming and shaming’, and even criminal charges.

Dismissal costs

Various rates relating to dismissals also increased this month. The main ones are:

  • A week’s pay for statutory redundancy pay and unfair dismissal basic awards, with a maximum of £489
  • Maximum statutory redundancy pay is £14,670
  • Maximum unfair dismissal compensatory award is £80,541.

Remember that unfair dismissal compensatory awards are capped at the lower of either of the aforementioned maximum or one year’s gross salary.

Other important rates

Also in April, the prescribed rate of statutory maternity, paternity, adoption and shared parental pay increases to £140.98 a week. Alongside this, the statutory sick pay rate increases to £89.35 a week.

Lydia Newman is an Employment Solicitor

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