As we move through January, most businesses and employers will have fallen back into a familiar routine since the busy festive period has concluded.
It is therefore crucial for all employers, whether a small business or a large corporation, to be fully aware of, and start preparing for, the upcoming legislative changes that 2024 brings, ensuring appropriate action is taken to protect their employees and business.
This article highlights the most talked about employment law changes, ranging from stronger worker rights to the increased statutory payments, and the potential consequences for non-compliance.
Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023
The demand for flexible working arrangements has risen exponentially since the Covid-19 pandemic, and despite it being almost 2 years since all restrictions were lifted, a recent study by the Institute of Economic Research found that UK employees still have the highest average remote working days in Europe.
This new law will come into effect on 6th April 2024, enhancing an employee’s rights to request flexible working. Requests can be made from the first day of employment, removing the previous requirement of 26 weeks’ continuous service.
The Act further stipulates that an employer must respond to these requests within a shorter 2-month period, alongside the new requirement to provide an employee consultation prior to refusing the request.
However, no amendment has been made to the existing statutory grounds for refusing these requests, with employers still being able to rely on factors such as ‘potential detrimental effect to their performance’, or ‘quality of work’, two areas which have been highly criticised by flexible working advocates.
This statutory amendment is an additional hurdle for those employers hoping to steer their employees back into the workplace, but a small victory for employees looking to have a higher control over their working arrangements.
Important Family Friendly Updates:
- Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023:
From the 6th April 2024, pregnant employees will receive additional safeguards to their employment for an 18-month ‘protection period’ against redundancy, including the employer’s obligation to grant them first priority for any alternative roles.
Protection will also extend to employees who recently suffer a miscarriage, maternity returners, adoption leave returners, and those who return from shared parental leave.
This Act aims to provide employees with a greater sense of job security, as employers who fail to comply could expect discrimination and unfair dismissal claims being brought against them.
Employers should also note that the Paternity Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2024 have been laid before Parliament this week.
This will allow employees to split their two-weeks paternity leave into two one-week periods, which they can then exercise at any point during the first year from the birth or adoption of their child, a significant increase from the previous 8-week limit.
These proposed changes are likely to come into force 8th March 2024, however, this will only apply to babies whose expected week of birth falls after the 6th April 2024
Carers Leave Regulations 2024
Even though the Carer’s Leave Act 2023 came into force in May 2023, it required the regulations outlining an employee’s entitlement to the provisions for it to take effect.
With these regulations also coming into force from the 6th of April 2004, employees who provide long term care to a dependent will be entitled to take unpaid leave ranging from a half day to a maximum one-week block, to undertake or support their caring responsibilities.
The dependent can be a parent, child, spouse, civil partner, a person who lives in their household that’s not their tenant or lodger, or any person who reasonably relies on the employee regarding their care.
The regulations define the requirement for ‘long-term care need’ as being an illness or injury which requires care for longer than 3 months, or a disability under the Equality Act 2010, or issues related to old age.
Employees can give written or verbal notice of their intent to take carer’s leave from the first day of their employment. Employers do not have the right to outright refuse carer’s leave, however they can postpone the request if business would be unduly disrupted.
Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023
This landmark piece of legislation will hopefully be a wake-up call for many employers who are currently providing their employees with inadequate measures to protect them against sexual harassment. Coming into force in October 2024, employers will have a duty to take ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent workplace sexual harassment.
This Act will push businesses to provide adequate training, structure clear policies which will include guidance on proper, impartial investigations into reported harassment.
Businesses who fail to meet these new legal requirements will meet with increased consequences. If an employee brings a sexual harassment claim against their employer for failing to protect them with reasonable preventative measures, they could seek an additional uplift of up to 25% for their compensation claim. This is another crucial deterrent for companies to ensure their outdated policies and grievance procedures are reviewed urgently.
It will remain to be seen whether this Act will fulfil its purpose of encouraging a more positive workplace culture for women struggling with harassment in more male-dominated sectors.
Right to Work Checks:
The Code of Practice on Illegal Working Penalties will come into effect on the 22nd January. These new rules from the Home Office set out the various verification methods available employers to adequately check an individual is eligible to work in the UK.
Employers who fail to conduct these checks during their recruitment process will face an increased penalty of up to £45,000 – £60,000 per illegal worker employed.
Financial Updates for 2024:
- National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage:
From the 1st April 2024, the Government has lowered the age eligibility threshold for National Living Wage to encompass those who are 21 and over. This new catchment will form part of the 3 million workers benefiting from the highest ever National Living Wage rate increase from £10.42 to £11.44 an hour.
It’s not all sorry news for those who have missed out on the new threshold, as those aged 18 to 20 will see an increase in their National Minimum Wage rate from £7.49 to £8.60, and all apprentices and workers under 18 receiving the same paycheck boost from £5.28 to £6.40 an hour.
The 8th of April 2024 will bring into effect a higher weekly rate limit for statutory sick pay, increasing from £109.40 to £116.75.
- Child-Related Statutory Payments:
The first 6-weeks of maternity, paternity, shared parental, or adoption pay will remain as the standard calculation of 90% of the employee’s average weekly earnings.
However, from the 7th of April 2024 they will be entitled to an improved weekly rate for the following 33 weeks. The cap will increase from £172.48 to £184.03, and will benefit those who would typically earn higher than this amount based on the 90% income calculation.
This year will see the Employment Rights (Regulations) 2023 implement of a new method of calculating accrued holiday entitlement for those working irregular hours or part-time throughout the year.
From the 1st April, employers will be expected to calculate 12.07% of the actual hours worked in each particular pay period, with the granted permission they can also carry untaken accrued holiday to the next leave year.
How Should Employers Prepare for 2024?
Focusing on the demographic of your workforce can allow your company to get ahead of the curve, allowing your financial teams to budget which legislative changes can impact your business the most. For example, businesses that tend to recruit a younger workforce for their seasonal roles will need to consider the impact of the National Living Wage’s age threshold being reduced to 21 years old, alongside the new method of calculating their holiday for irregular-hour workers.
All employers should look to review and update their policies and procedures in accordance to the new statutory provisions, making sure the amendments are fully complaint by obtaining legal advice or consultation from HR professionals. Failure to comply with updated legislations can leave your business vulnerable to lengthy grievance or costly tribunal proceedings, which can lead to a wider impact on your company’s reputation.