307: And finally a look forward to what’s happening in employment news for April 2021
On 4 March 2021, the government published a Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules, most of which come into force on 6 April 2021. The statement includes revisions to the UK’s shortage occupation list for skilled workers, including the addition of various occupations in the health and care sectors. It also introduces a new minimum hourly rate to the Skilled Worker Category. A new Graduate route opens on 1 July 2021 allowing international students to stay in the UK and to work, or look for work, at any skill level for up to two years after they complete a degree at a UK institution (three years for those awarded doctorates).
Compensation limits for certain tribunal awards and other statutory payments will increase from 6 April 2021, based on the September 2020 RPI which showed an increase of 1.1% since 2020. In cases involving dismissal, the new figures will apply where the effective date of termination falls on or after 6 April 2021. The statutory limit on a week’s pay will increase from £538 to £544. The maximum compensatory award for unfair dismissal will increase from £88,519 to £89,493 and the minimum basic award for certain unfair dismissals (including health and safety dismissals) will go up from £6,562 to £6,634.
On 19 March 2021, regulations came into force revoking the Restriction of Public Sector Exit Payments Regulations 2020, which had applied from 4 November 2020 to cap exit payments in the public sector to a maximum of £95,000. This follows a government review which concluded that the cap ‘may have had unintended consequences’. These latest regulations provide that anyone who received an exit payment from a relevant public sector body between 4 November 2020 and 19 March 2021 will be entitled to receive an additional amount. This will be the difference between the amount paid and the amount that would have been payable had the cap not applied, plus interest. Additional payments can be made to the employee or on their behalf to a pension scheme. The government has indicated that it will bring forward further proposals to tackle unjustified exit payments.
On 12 February 2021, HMRC updated its social security contributions guidance to reflect that all EU member states have opted to apply the ‘detached worker rules’. This means that UK employers sending an employee to work temporarily in the EU should apply to HMRC for certification so that UK national insurance contributions can continue to be paid in the UK. Equally, UK employers bringing an EU-based employee to the UK temporarily must ensure that the employee obtains a certificate from their home EU state so that social security contributions can continue to be paid in that member state.
Minutes of the England and Wales national employment tribunals user group meeting held on 10 December 2020 have been published. The President reported that the case management system is antiquated and not properly compatible with remote working, and that trials of its cloud-based replacement are not going as well as hoped, meaning that further testing is required. Recent changes to tribunal rules were also discussed, including new regulations to allow cross-deployment of judges from other courts and tribunals, the introduction of Legal Officers to free up judges’ time and improve overall efficiency, and amendments to assist the functioning of remote hearings. It was reported that management information on tribunals’ outstanding caseload is now being published online.
Anecdotally, the view of regional employment judges is that there have been recent increases in unfair dismissal redundancy claims; whistleblowing claims for alleged employer misuse of furloughing and inadequate PPE; unpaid wages claims from individuals alleging they were required to work despite being furloughed; unpaid holiday pay claims, particularly during furlough; and claims for protective awards following alleged failures in collective consultation. The administrative and practical difficulties currently being experienced by tribunal users, particularly in London, were also acknowledged.
Due to the continued effects of the pandemic, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has confirmed that gender pay gap reporting enforcement action for the year 2020-2021 will be suspended until 5 October 2021. Public sector bodies and private sector employers would otherwise have been required to submit their gender pay gap reports by 30 March and 4 April 2021 respectively. The suspension of enforcement action means that employers have an additional six months to submit their reports, but the EHRC has stressed that from 5 October 2021, it will begin contacting employers who have not submitted their data. Employers are also being encouraged to report before this date wherever possible.
The Home Office has launched a new service which will allow organisations subject to the requirement to produce an annual modern slavery statement to add their statement to an online registry. For now, this is voluntary, but organisations are being strongly encouraged to submit their most recently published statement to the registry to demonstrate what they have reported. It is anticipated that in due course publication on the registry will be a mandatory requirement. This follows an independent review of the Modern Slavery Act which recommended strengthening the regime in order to increase transparency, improve comparability between statements, and track progress on reporting modern slavery issues in business operations and supply chains. Further measures may include introducing fines for non-compliance, a mandatory structure for statements and a single reporting deadline of 30 September.