371: What’s new in employment law?
Improvements to Apprenticeships to come into force from August 2022
The Education and Skills Funding Agency has announced improvements and simplifications to apprenticeships which will come into force from August 2022. These measures focus on reducing bureaucracy and include easier acceleration of apprenticeships by placing greater focus on provider assessment of prior learning and experience; introducing a consistent baseline for off-the-job training; lowering English and Maths requirements; reducing the data needed to make payments; and improving Apprenticeship Service final reports. The changes are set out in the various Apprenticeship Funding Rules and Guidance for August 2022 to July 2023.
Changes to fit notes: new legislation expands the number of professionals to certify fit notes
The Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that from July 2022, fit notes can be issued by NHS nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists in addition to doctors. Online training and government guidance have been developed for these professionals to explain the new rules, which aim to reduce bureaucracy and alleviate the burden on GPs. The requirement for the fit note to be signed in ink has been removed and replaced by the issuer’s name and profession. These changes have been implemented through the Social Security (Medical Evidence) and Statutory Sick Pay (Medical Evidence) (Amendment) (No 2) Regulations 2022.
Resumption of priority processing for certain visa application routes
On Friday 12 August the Home Office announced that priority processing was again being made available for work and study visa applications made from overseas. This will be music to the ears of employers and applicants, who have been battling incredibly long visa processing times since the priority service was temporarily withdrawn in March so that Home Office resources could be prioritise applications under the Ukraine visa schemes.
Hybrid working – the statistics
A recent CIPD survey of 1006 senior decision makers found that 78% of employers allow hybrid working through either formal or informal arrangements, although 42% believed that they would revert to pre-pandemic working patterns in due course. Over half (54%) of respondents expect their hybrid workers to be in the office for a minimum number of days each week (43%) or each month (12%). The minimum number of days required in the office is typically two or three days. 59% of decision makers agreed that senior leadership and management were more likely to trust staff to work from home and be productive following the pandemic. Most employers (68%) do not plan any changes to pay and / or benefits for hybrid workers, but 4% of respondents said they had reduced pay and / or benefits and 13% said they plan to do so.
Will menopause be the next protected characteristic?
The Government has confirmed that there are no plans to introduce the menopause as a new protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 nor is there an intention to to amend the Act. However Acas, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the Government’s Equality Hub are considering whether improvements can be made to existing guidance on the menopause in order to increase employer and employee understanding of the law.
Proposed new bill introduces the right to time off for employees receiving fertility treatment
A Private Members’ Bill requiring employers to give employees time off from work for fertility treatment and connected reasons had its first reading in the House of Commons on 20 June 2022. The Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill would give employees the right to time off for medical appointments throughout the IVF process, including for hormone treatment, blood tests and scans. At present, pregnancy rights for employees undergoing IVF only begin at the last stage, when the embryo is transferred. Since many employers do not currently offer any time off, many women have to use their holiday entitlement.
Acas advises employers against mandatory vaccination policy for employees
The legislation requiring care home workers to be vaccinated against Covid-19 was revoked on 15 March 2022, and there is currently no legal obligation for any employees to be vaccinated. However, a recent YouGov survey commissioned by Acas has revealed that 22% of employers intend to implement a ‘no jab, no job’ policy for new employees in the year ahead. Acas advises employers to support and encourage staff to be vaccinated rather than implement a mandatory policy. Measures suggested by Acas include consulting with staff or unions; agreeing a vaccine policy; and considering paid time off for vaccination appointments. Acas also reminds employers to be sensitive to individual concerns and circumstances in order to minimise the risk of discrimination claims.
Statistics show a fall in employee trade union membership
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has published its annual statistical bulletin on trade union membership, based on the Labour Force Survey. This highlights that the proportion of UK employees who were trade union members fell from 23.7% in 2020 to 23.1% in 2021, which is the lowest trade union membership rate on record (since 1995). This fall is driven by the decrease in public sector members, down 58,000 on the year to 3.9 million in 2021. There was a much smaller fall in union membership among private sector employees of 4,000 to 2.56 million in 2021, its lowest level since 2011. Membership levels have fallen for the first time after four years of consecutive growth.
Deliveroo’s agreement with the GMB Union gives self-employed riders collective rights.
Deliveroo and the GMB Union have signed a Voluntary Partnership Agreement covering Deliveroo’s 90,000 self-employed riders. This Agreement gives the GMB rights to collective bargaining on pay and to consultation on benefits as well as health, safety and well-being issues. The GMB will also be able to represent individual riders in disputes. However, riders will only be covered by the Agreement if they sign up to GMB membership. Deliveroo describes the Agreement as an ‘innovative blueprint for the future of work’, suggesting that it could be used as a model for platform workers globally.
Employment Relations Act 1999: proposed amendments to give teachers the opportunity to receive alternative support at hearings
The Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, has said he is considering plans to amend the Employment Relations Act 1999 (ERA 1999) to give teachers the right to be accompanied to grievance and disciplinary hearings by external lawyers or representatives of a body other than a union. Currently, under section 10 of the ERA 1999, workers have the right to be accompanied only by a colleague or trade union representative, although teachers are already entitled to be professionally represented at potentially career-ending Teaching Regulation Agency misconduct hearings. Critics of the Government’s proposal are concerned that allowing professional representation would increase bureaucracy and costs and result in delays to internal processes.
If you have any queries regarding the above news items or require legal support, please do get in contact with our specialist employment team, to advise on your specific circumstances.