Category Archives: Mark’s Monthly

New Equality Commission guidance on recruiting disabled people

The Equality Commission in Northern Ireland has issued new guidance on recruiting disabled people.  “Making it work” shares the personal stories of six individuals with different disabilities and their success in finding work.   There is also information on support available to individuals and employers to employ disabled people.

Research by Scope tells us that disabled people make 60% more applications than those without a disability before finding a job.  One in five people in Northern Ireland live with a disability and the employment rate for disabled people in Northern Ireland is 37.3%, which is the lowest figure across all of the UK regions.  However recruiting disabled people can create a workforce that reflects the range of customers it serves and the community in which it is based.

Employers who are keen to be truly “equal opportunity employers” can think about taking “outreach positive action”.   An example of this could be reserving a quota of jobs for disabled people, to the exclusion of people who are not disabled, or operating a “guaranteed interview scheme” for disabled job applicants.  Outreach positive action is lawful under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Whilst outreach positive action is voluntary, reasonable adjustments are not.

Employers are under a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments.  Once an employer knows, or could reasonably be expected to know that an applicant is disabled, the obligation to consider reasonable adjustments is triggered, and the employer should consider this even if it has not been raised by the employee.   Remember that a disability can be physical or mental and can also be hidden.

Reasonable adjustments in recruitment could include providing information about the job and the application form in an alternative format, eg large print, Braille or as an audio file or providing extra time for an assessment.   The application form should contain space for candidates to provide information about any adjustments they may require during the recruitment process.

There are a range of organisations providing employability programmes for disabled people, for all areas of disability.  In addition, the Department for Communities provide a range of mainstream and specialist employment programmes to assist people to find work and provide in-work support.

Employers may be able to get help from Access to Work towards some costs where an individual requires support or adaptations. Access to Work can provide a grant to pay for the cost of the support, for example to provide special aids and equipment, adaptations to equipment, communication support at interview and support workers.

The Equality Commission publication is available at Making it Work – Employment Support Services for People with Disabilities (equalityni.org)

Uber

 

Uber has been unsuccessful at the Supreme Court in its appeal against a finding that the taxi drivers it supplies are “workers” within the meaning of employment legislation.

Uber argued that the taxi drivers providing its service were self employed contractors and that Uber is a booking agent, providing the drivers with access to the Uber app and payment services.  Uber provided the courts with documents, including a “Partner Agreement” and “Services Agreement” to evidence their argument that the drivers were self employed.

However, the Supreme Court said that the task for the tribunals and the courts was to determine whether the claimants fell within the definition of a “worker”, irrespective of what had been contractually agreed.

The general purpose of the relevant employment legislation is to protect vulnerable workers from being paid too little for the work they do or subjected to other forms of unfair treatment.

It would be inconsistent with the purpose of this legislation to treat the terms of a written contract as the starting point in deciding whether an individual falls within the definition of a “worker”.

An employer is often in a position to dictate contract terms and the individual performing the work has little or no ability to influence those terms.  The effectiveness of the protection under employment legislation would be seriously undermined if the company could, by the way in which the relationship is characterised in the written contract, determine whether or not the individual is to be classified as a worker. Laws such as the National Minimum Wage Act were enacted to protect those whom Parliament considers to be in need of protection and not just those who are designated by their employer as qualifying for it.

This confirms that the claimant Uber drivers in this case are entitled to:

  • 5.6 weeks’ paid annual leave each year
  • a maximum 48 hour average working week, and rest breaks
  • the national minimum wage (and the national living wage)
  • protection of the whistleblowing legislation.

An employment tribunal had held in 2016 that Uber drivers were workers, and Uber unsuccessfully appealed this decision to the Employment Appeals Tribunal, the Court of Appeal and now the Supreme Court.  In deciding that the drivers were “workers”, the Employment Tribunal based its assessment essentially on the control Uber required to have over drivers, including the following:

  1. Uber interviews and recruits its drivers.
  2. Uber controls the key passenger information, including the trip destination, and excluded drivers from it.
  3. Uber required drivers to accept trips and not cancel trips, and enforced this requirement by logging off from the App drivers who did so.
  4. Uber dictates the route that must be followed by the driver.
  5. Uber fixes the fare and the driver cannot negotiate a higher sum.
  6. Uber imposes a number of conditions on drivers (including the standard of car they must use and quality standards).
  7. Uber puts drivers through a rating system which effectively amounts to a performance/disciplinary procedure.
  8. Uber dealt with customer refunds, sometimes without discussing the matter with the driver, when the driver’s income would be affected.
  9. Uber handles customer complaints, including complaints about the driver.

The Supreme Court has confirmed what we knew; that where an individual claims to have worker or employment status, the tribunal will not look simply at the written documents, but at what happens in practice.   We can be sure that the Supreme Court decision will be quoted in  employment tribunal decisions on employment status in future.

It is important to correctly determine employment status to avoid unexpected liability for the minimum wage, holiday pay, income tax and employer national insurance contributions.

It is important also to bear in mind that from 6 April 2021, there will be a duty on employers to categorise the employment status of persons they engage under the IR35 rules.  From this date, the hirer/employer must decide whether that person is truly a self-employed consultant responsible for their own tax affairs, or whether the person is in fact and employee or worker, for whom PAYE and Employers National Insurance should be paid.   The new rules will affect medium and large organisations (turnover in excess of £10.2 million) in all sectors of the economy.

We are often asked by clients to review working arrangements and advise on employment status so if you are in any doubt about whether or not someone you engage can truly be said to be self-employed, please contact us.

 

What to look out for in 2021

This month we are highlighting what to look out for in employment law in 2021

1.     Brexit

The UK is obliged to adhere to EU laws in force up to 31st December 2020 under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018.  This converts and incorporates into domestic law, EU laws as they exist immediately before 31 December 2020.  

A Trade and Co-Operation Agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU was concluded on 24 December 2020.  This gives the UK tariff free trading with EU member states, on condition that there is a “level playing field” between UK and EU member states.   For employment law, this means that the UK can diverge from EU derived employment legislation, only if this does not give the UK an unfair competitive advantage.   If there is evidence that the UK’s divergence from EU employment law has materially impacted trade or investment, then the EU can take “appropriate rebalancing measures” which can include tariffs.

In practice, we think that this could affect the UK’s ability to change in substance the Working Time Regulations and the Agency Worker Regulations, as changes to these could give UK businesses an opportunity to reduce costs, thereby giving them an advantage over EU competitors.

The position in Northern Ireland is somewhat different to the rest of the UK, as there is a commitment in the Withdrawal Agreement that there will be no diminution of rights, safeguards or equality of opportunity enshrined in EU law in respect of Northern Ireland.  This means decisions of the ECJ in relation to discrimination law will continue to be relevant in Northern Ireland.

The UK will not be required to implement new EU Directives, but if this results in a significant divergence on employment rights in a way that materially affects trade or investment (and therefore results in unfair competition) then the EU can trigger rebalancing provisions.  This could include imposing tariffs.  Evidence of a material affect on trade or investment would have to be shown before rebalancing measures could be effected.

From our perspective, some key questions for employers following Brexit are as follows:-

(i)               If an employee lives in Donegal and works in Derry/Londonderry, how does Brexit affect this?

Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are part of a Common Travel Area.  This arrangement predates Brexit and is not affected by Brexit.   If the employee is a national of the Republic of Ireland, he/she does not need permission to enter or remain in the UK, including a visa, or any form of residence permit or employment permit.   Equally, British citizens are able to work in Ireland without an employment permit, including on a self employed basis. This continues after free movement ended on 31 December 2020.

(ii)             What about employees from other EU member states?

If the individual who wants to work in UK  lives in another EU state, they will need to obtain a Frontier Worker Permit no later than 1 July 2021.   If an EU citizen already living and working  in the UK wants to continue to do so, they will need to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme or apply for British Citizenship.  The deadline to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme is 30 June 2021. EU citizens not already living in the UK will need to apply for a visa under the new points based immigration system.

Other immigration rules will apply for employees who are nationals of countries outside the EU.

(iii)           What happens with holiday pay – do we still have to includes commission, overtime etc?

At the moment, yes.  The Working Time Regulations will remain in force as the UK.  In the UK, employers are obliged to pay holiday pay on the basis of “normal remuneration”.  That can include not just basic pay, but also commission, bonuses and overtime pay.  This obligation comes from decisions of the European Court of Justice, where it was asked to interpret the Working Time Directive.

This may change, as the UK Court of Appeal and Supreme Court can overturn decisions of lower courts where EU law was applied.  There are three holiday pay cases due to come before the Supreme Court in 2021 which will give us an indication on the court’s attitude to diverging from EU law.  Those cases are:

  • Harpur Trust v Brazel, which relates to holiday entitlement for part time term time workers;
  • East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust v Flowers, which looks at whether regular voluntary overtime should be construed as ‘normal’ pay and included when calculating statutory holiday pay under the Working Time Regulations; and
  • Chief Constable of the PSNI v Agnew, which concerns claim for back payments of holiday pay.

EU law will continue to impact the UK’s approach to holiday pay, as UK Employment Tribunals are likely to follow new ECJ decisions.   The Trade and Co Operation Agreement provides that courts and tribunals are no longer bound to follow new ECJ decisions but may give effect to them where relevant.   There is currently a lack of guidance on when the Tribunal should and should not give regard to decisions, and given that the Tribunal’s decisions may be appealed, we expect them to be cautious and follow new ECJ decisions where relevant.

The Northern Ireland Industrial Tribunal will have to give effect to ECJ decisions on equality matters, under the Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement.

2.     Changes to IR35

Where an individual works for a client through an intermediary (e.g. they set up a limited company to trade through), but would be an employee if they were providing their services directly, the IR35 rules may apply.  These rules are in place to make sure that where an individual would have been an employee if they were providing their services directly, they pay broadly the same tax and National Insurance Contributions as an employee.  They should not be able to avail of tax advantages simply by placing an intermediary between themselves and the end client.

From 6 April 2021 there will be a duty on employers to categorise the employment status of persons they engage under the IR35 rules.  From this date, the hirer/employer must decide whether that person is truly a self-employed consultant responsible for their own tax affairs, or whether the person is in fact and employee or worker, for whom PAYE and Employers National Insurance should be paid.

The new rules were due to come in to force in April 2020 but postponed due to COVID 19.   They will affect medium and large organisations (turnover in excess of £10.2 million) in all sectors of the economy.

The employer/hirer must provide reasons for its determination, and the determination must be given to the individual.    Until this is done, the hirer/employer is responsible for the individual’s PAYE and national insurance contributions. The employer/hirer is also under an obligation to respond to requests for information from the person they contract with, or the worker, as to whether the hirer qualifies as ‘small’ for the purposes of the new provisions.

There are a range of factors which need to be considered when deciding whether a person is self employed, employed, or has worker status, and we can advise you if you need to make a determination.  At this stage it would be wise to gather information on any individuals engaged through personal service companies in order to make the determination.

3.     Changes to the National Minimum Wage

The national living wage (NLW) will increase 2.2% to £8.91 from 1 April 2021 and will become available to people aged 23 and above, down from the current age of 25.

A summary of the increases is below:

Rate from April 2020 Rate from April 2021 Increase
Aged 25 and above £8.72* £8.91 2.2%
23 to 24-year-olds £8.20 £8.91 8.7%
21 to 22-year-olds £8.20 £8.36 2.0%
18 to 20-year-olds £6.45 £6.56 1.7%
16 to 17-year-olds £4.55 £4.62 1.5%
Apprentice rate £4.15 £4.30 3.6%
Accommodation offset £8.20 £8.36 2.0%

4.     Changes to coronavirus job retention scheme

The scheme has already been extended a number of times, most recently to the end of April 2021.  We expect further announcements in the next few months in relation to the scheme which we will report on as they arrive.

5.     In Northern Ireland:

Certain changes we had expected to see in 2020 did not happen, primarily due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Although the pandemic continues, we might expect to see some of the following introduced in 2021 in Northern Ireland:

  • Parental Bereavement leave
  • Gender pay gap reporting obligations
  • A ban on exclusivity clauses in Zero hours contracts

6.     In Great Britain:

Possible changes in 2021 include:

  • Neo natal leave and pay;
  • A week’s leave for unpaid carers;
  • making flexible working the default position for employers with 250 or more employees;
  • further reforms to exit pay in the public sector;
  • measures to ensure that tips left for workers go to them in full;
  • a new right for all workers to request a more predictable contract; and
  • an increase to the length of time required for continuity of employment to be broken.

A consultation has recently been announced looking into Restrictive Covenants in employment contracts (also known as Post Termination Restrictions).

We will report on any significant changes when legislation is announced.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article, please get in touch with us.

Employment Law in 2020

We have a confession to make. In our article at the start of the year, “What’s to come in employment law in 2020”, we didn’t mention any of the following:-

-        Coronavirus

-        Furlough

-        Flexible furlough

-        Self-isolation

-        Statutory Sick Pay

-        Quarantine

-        Social distancing

We hope we can be forgiven for not knowing exactly what was ahead of us at the start of the year. We doubt many people’s 2020 turned out the way they expected.

In this article, with the benefit of hindsight, we take a look at some of the major developments in employment law in 2020. Let’s start with the non-covid-related matters first:-

LRA Pre-claim conciliation (in Northern Ireland)

Since late January, anyone intending to bring a claim to the Tribunal has to first approach the Labour Relations Agency to discuss the possibility of settling their case before Tribunal proceedings are issued. To lodge the claim, the individual needs to obtain a Certificate from the LRA to confirm that pre-claim conciliation has been attempted.

Also, any employer seeking to make a referral to the LRA to enter into a settlement agreement with an employee or former employee, must register with the LRA’s online portal. We have assisted many clients this year with these LRA referrals. The online system is not without its problems but our experience of the LRA Officers themselves has been positive. They have always been very good at assisting the employer and the employee in reaching an agreement.

Changes in GB

Significant changes came into force in GB in April. Workers, as well as employees, became entitled to a statement of “written particulars” not later than the day they commence work. In addition, the statement must make reference to training, other paid leave and probationary periods.

Also, the reference period for determining an average week’s pay changed from 12 weeks to 52 weeks.

Parental Bereavement Leave came into force in GB in April 2020. We await the introduction of this right to Parental Bereavement Leave in NI and will let you know when it comes into force.

Coronavirus

It’s hard to know where to begin with the impact coronavirus has had on employment law in 2020.

Furlough

Back in March, before anyone had even heard of furlough, we were advising clients who were suffering a downturn in trade or voluntarily closing their premises in a bid to slow the spread of the virus. Back then, we were advising on short-time working and temporary lay-off.

Then, the Chancellor announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and everything shifted away from lay-off to furlough. We sought to keep clients updated with the many changes to the rules of the Scheme, including what circumstances were or were not appropriate circumstances in which employees could be furloughed and whether or not annual leave could be taken when employees went on furlough. We provided templates for agreements with employees going on furlough.

The furlough scheme was due to end in June, then was extended to July, then August, September and October. From 1st July, flexible furlough was possible, where employees could do some work and be placed on work for the difference between their contracted hours and the hours they were working.

The scheme was due to be replaced by the Job Support Scheme on 1st November but at the last minute (literally the night before!), the Job Support Scheme was shelved in favour of extending the furlough scheme until the end of March 2021. Cue further rounds of template letters and agreements for clients to issue to employees as first we sought to move employees from the furlough scheme to the Job Support Scheme, then to extend furlough agreements.

Hopefully, the position is now settled and there will be no further changes until the scheme ends. Employers should however be aware that, from 1st December, no employee can be placed on furlough if they are serving a contractual or statutory notice period.

Redundancies

Unfortunately, as the Chancellor said himself, it wasn’t possible to save every job. We assisted many clients through redundancy processes and this was a difficult time for the employers and employees involved. As the government started asking employers to contribute more to the cost of employee’s wages on furlough (first national insurance and pension, then 10% and then 20% of wages), employers began to assess whether jobs were going to be viable in the medium to long-term and reduce the number of employees accordingly.

Whether or not the extension of the furlough scheme will be enough to save other jobs or will simply delay employers introducing a further round of redundancies in the early part of 2021 remains to be seen.

Extension of entitlement to Statutory Sick Pay

Employees are generally only entitled to SSP after serving three unpaid “waiting days”. The government decided that, if the reason for the absence was covid-related, the employee would not have to serve the waiting days and the employee would be entitled to SSP from day one. The government also expanded the circumstances in which employees are entitled to SSP to include if they were having to isolate because they had close contact with someone who had tested positive. We advised on many complicating factors regarding the expanded entitlement to SSP including whether or not an employee entitled to SSP because they had close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus also meant that contractual sick pay was payable in these circumstances or whether employers could still limit contractual sick pay to circumstances when the employee themselves was unfit for work.

Due to the huge numbers of people required to self-isolate and therefore entitled to SSP, it was a relief to employers that they could reclaim up to two weeks of SSP for anyone entitled to SSP due to a reason related to coronavirus. However, this concession only applies to the employer once. If the same employee has to isolate again, the employer cannot re-claim the SSP the second time.

Carrying over holiday

The government announced that if leave could not be taken in this holiday year, because of coronavirus, up to 4 weeks could be carried over and taken in the next two years. Our advice was that, wherever possible, leave should still be taken this year as carrying it over can lead to operational issues and increased costs if employees leave their employment without taking accrued leave as they would have to be paid in lieu for the accrued but untaken annual leave.

We eventually established after several weeks of the furlough scheme being in place that the government said that annual leave could be taken when employees are on furlough so, unless an employer’s business was too busy because of coronavirus to permit holiday to be taken this year, there was no reason for holiday not to be taken this year.

Working from home

Many of us have experienced the pros and cons of working from home this year. Not having to commute and being able to move from one meeting to another without having to move away from your desk was certainly more efficient but there is sometimes no substitute for face to face contact.

We advised clients on some issues relating to working from home including how to monitor what work was being undertaken, keeping in regular contact with employees working at home and making sure employees understood the data protection issues of working from home.

Covid-related disciplinaries

Finally on the covid-related front, we advised on many circumstances where employees breached the coronavirus rules and the employers had to take disciplinary action. The two most common circumstances involved employees attending illegal house parties and failing to quarantine upon return from a country on the quarantine list.

Many employees may feel that what they do outside of work is not their employer’s business but if their actions outside of work break the law and therefore put themselves and their colleagues, customers or service users at increased risk, then employers can and should take disciplinary action.

2020 has been quite a year. We’re not going to make too many predictions about what 2021 will involve. We will however write to you in January with a few ideas of what to look out for. In the meantime, have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Employment Law changes – April 2020

In this article, we’re taking a welcome break from thinking about coronavirus to look at changes to employment law which are coming in to force in April 2020. As always, if you have any queries or if we can assist you in any way regarding these changes, please contact us.

In Northern Ireland and Great Britain:

  1. The national minimum wage increases from 1st April as follows:-
Wage band Current rate Rate from 1 April 2020
25 and over £8.21 £8.72
21 to 24 £7.70 £8.20
18 to 20 £6.15 £6.45
Under 18 £4.35 £4.55
Apprentice £3.90 £4.15

2. From 6th April, a “salary premium” will no longer count towards meeting the national minimum wage requirements. For example where a higher hourly rate is paid for working on a bank holiday, then the difference between the higher bank holiday rate, and the flat rate, is discounted for the purposes of calculating whether the individual is receiving the national minimum wage.

3. The normal weekly rate of statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay, statutory adoption pay and statutory shared parental pay increases from £148.68 to £151.20.

4. Statutory Sick Pay increases from £94.25 to £95.85 per week.

5. The statutory guarantee payment increases from £29 to £30 per day.

In Northern Ireland only:

1. The maximum amount of “a week’s pay” for the purpose of calculating a redundancy payment or for various awards including the basic or additional award of compensation for unfair dismissal increases from £547 to £560.

2. The limit on amount of compensatory award for unfair dismissal increases from £86,614 to £88,693.

In Great Britain only:

  1. The maximum amount of a week’s pay (used for calculating a redundancy payment and for various awards including the unfair dismissal basic award) increases from £525 to £538 (contrast with Northern Ireland).
  2. The limit on amount of unfair dismissal compensatory award increases from £86,444 to £88,519 (again, contrast with Northern Ireland).
  3. Workers and employees will be entitled to a written statement of employment particulars on day 1 of work.  Previously a written statement of terms had to be provided to employees (not workers) within two months of starting work.
  4. The written statement of employment particulars must contain additional content including how long the job is expected to last, details of benefits given by the employer, specific days and times of work (this will present a challenge for casual/zero hours contracts). If days and hours of work vary, then details of how they will vary should be provided in the statement.
  5. Parental Bereavement Leave will allow employed parents paid leave for a minimum of two weeks on the death of a child aged under 18. The right to Parental Bereavement Leave is a day 1 right – there is no length of service requirement. The right to Parental Bereavement Pay (currently to £151.20 per week or 90% of weekly pay, whichever is lower), is acquired after 26 weeks continuous employment, provided the individual earns at least the lower earnings limit (currently £118 per week). The leave can be taken in a two-week block or two separate weeks, within 56 weeks of the child’s death.  “Parent” includes guardian, foster parent, others with day to day responsibility for the child.
  6. Changes to the Agency Worker Regulations – Currently the regulations contain a “Swedish derogation” which allowed agencies to directly employ agency workers and avoid paying equal pay with permanent employees after 12 weeks.  This is being abolished from April 2020. Agency workers can still be directly employed by an agency, but they will be entitled to equal pay compared to the hirer’s employees after 12 weeks on assignment. Agencies will have to give workers a statement confirming the terms under which they work and confirming their right to equal pay. By 30th April, Agencies must provide written confirmation to those with an existing contract containing a Swedish derogation provision saying that the Swedish derogation provision will no longer apply.
  7. There is a change to Holiday Pay reference period for workers with irregular hours or on zero hour contracts. Instead of a 12 week average, holiday pay will be calculated by reference to an average over 52 weeks of employment, or up to 104 weeks in some cases.

We hope this is helpful. If you have any queries, please contact us.

 

From lay-off to furlough and support for the self-employed

What a tumultuous couple of weeks it has been. As the UK imposes strict measures to try to slow the spread of covid-19, the effect on businesses and jobs has been devestating.

This time last week, all of our discussions with clients were around lay-offs without pay and reducing hours of work in an effort to make necessary savings as a result of a massive slow down or complete halt to business activity.

Then last Friday evening, the Chancellor announced the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and everything shifted towards thinking about what it will mean to place an employee on “furlough”.

At the time of writing, there are still some things we can’t be sure of but here are the main things we do know after further information was released on Thursday evening:-

1. All UK employers are eligible. There had been some concern expressed by some of our charity clients that the gov.uk page said “all UK businesses” were eligible but this has been updated to say that all UK employers with a PAYE scheme will be able to access support.

2. The government will reimburse 80% of wage costs (up to £2,500) of employees who would otherwise have been laid off because of the crisis plus employer national insurance and legal minimum employer pension contributions (3%).

3. The government contribution to wage costs can be backdated to 1st March and the scheme will be in operation for at least 3 months.

4. A furloughed worker must do no work while on furlough but may volunteer if this doesn’t amount to making money for or providing services to the employer. This is likely to be useful for charities if employees are willing to volunteer while on furlough.

5. The support will be accessed through a new portal currently being set up by HMRC.

6. The minimum period of furlough will be 3 weeks.

The grants may not be available for several weeks but employers should look into the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. It effectively offers an interest free loan for the first 12 months as the government will cover the interest payments. So, an employer with a cashflow issue can take a loan to cover wages and then, when the Job Retention  Scheme goes live, repay the loan with no interest payable by the employer. This scheme should ensure that employees do not have to go without their wages until the Job Retention Scheme can pay out.

I recorded a Facebook live session on Monday, addressing many of the questions we had been receiving about the Job Retention Scheme and what it will mean to put an employee on furlough. You can view the Facebook live session here. I will broadcast another session at 4pm on Friday to comment on the new details released on Thursday evening. Search for Mark Mason Employment Law on Facebook to watch live or catch up later.

This evening, the Chancellor announced the support that will be made available to the self-employed, More information on that can be found here.

If you have any queries about this article, please get in touch.

Stay safe

Mark

Coronavirus

The current outbreak of Coronavirus is raising a whole host of concerns for many and not least for employers. We have been contacted by some clients for advice in relation to specific situations that have arisen in their businesses so are taking the opportunity in this blog post to give some general advice that we hope is helpful.

With the situation changing on a daily basis, it can be difficult to keep abreast of current best practice. There is both a lack of clear information and an overabundance of sometimes speculative advice to sift through.

Sources of advice for Employers

The current advice is similar throughout all regions of the UK and Ireland. The Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland, and Its partner agencies such as Public Health England, are updating information daily on their websites.

A good source of advice for businesses and employers is found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-covid-19

This includes both general advice on preventing the spread of this type of infection, and specific advice relevant to the workplace. Advice on what to do if a member of staff or visitor to the workplace has a confirmed case will not currently be relevant but is there to be consulted should it become necessary.

If someone becomes unwell in the workplace and has travelled to affected areas, they should be moved to an area which is at least 2 metres away from other people, and if possible find a room where they can be isolated behind a closed door.

The individual who is unwell should call NHS 111 from their mobile, or 999 if an emergency (if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk) and explain which country they have returned from in the last 14 days and outline their current symptoms.

Employers should keep employees informed of hygiene requirements of public health advice, and monitor to ensure the measures are followed.

Employees who are not sick but quarantined or self-isolated

A main concern of employers is how to handle the situation where an employee is not actually sick, and therefore entitled to sick pay, but is unable to come to work under advice to self-isolate. This would include employees who have returned from travel to affected areas. Where it is possible to work from home, or to take annual leave, these options should be considered in consultation with the employee. Where neither is possible, it would be advisable to pay sick pay in these cases. Not to do so could risk the person returning to work because they want to be paid and possibly spreading the virus.

Employees who do not want to come to work

Some employees who have no reason under current advice to stay away from work may nevertheless want to remain away for fear of catching the virus. Employers are advised to deal with these concerns sensitively and offer the possibility of working from home or taking paid or unpaid leave where possible. However, there is no obligation to do this and where an employer believes there is no genuine reason for an employee to be away from work there could be grounds for disciplinary action. However, caution should be exercised, particularly if the situation here worsens, and a dismissal is unlikely to be considered fair in these circumstances.

As always, for more information or advice on this or anything else to do with employment law, please get in touch.

What’s to come in 2020?

This month we are highlighting what to look out for in employment law in 2020.

In Northern Ireland:

  1. Early conciliation started in Northern Ireland on 27 January 2020.  This means that for most types of employment claims, employees will be required to contact the LRA, and obtain an Early Conciliation Certificate, before they are allowed to lodge a claim in the Industrial/Fair Employment Tribunal.
  2. From April 2020 there will be a duty on employers to categorise employment status.  Medium and large organisations (turnover in excess of £10.2 million) in all sectors of the economy will become responsible for assessing the employment status of individuals who work for them through their own limited company.    We often see situations where an individual prefers to work through a limited company as a self employed “consultant”.  However there is now an obligation firmly on the hirer/employer to decide whether that person is truly a self employed consultant responsible for their own tax affairs, or whether the person is in fact and employee or worker, for whom PAYE and Employers National Insurance should be paid.   The employer/hirer must provide reasons for its determination, and the determination must be given to the individual.    Until this is done, the hirer/employer is responsible for the individual’s PAYE and national insurance contributions.
  1. Holiday pay has become a hot topic and we can expect many more claims in this regard (of course routed through the Labour Relations Agency Early Conciliation Service).   Legislation is needed to provide clarity on what employers are required to do, however we know from the decision of the Court of Appeal in Agnew v Chief Constable of PSNI, that:
    • the reference period for calculating normal remuneration may vary from between 12 and 52 weeks according to the particular circumstances;
    • the correct way to calculate holiday pay is by reference to working days and not calendar days. 

Our advice is to make sure that you are basing holiday pay on “normal remuneration” (that is, reflecting voluntary overtime etc,) for at least 4 weeks holiday entitlement.

4. As the Assembly is back up and running, we could see new employment legislation in NI.  Several parts of the Employment Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 have not yet been brought into force, and these could now be on the agenda.  We could see changes on:

  • Gender pay gap reporting obligations – these have been in place in GB since 2017 but have not to date been required in NI.
  • Zero hours contracts – a ban on exclusivity clauses in zero-hour contracts has been in place in GB since 2017 but they have not yet been banned in NI.  That could happen this year if enabling regulations are produced.

In Great Britain a number of changes are coming into force in April 2020:

  1. Workers and employees will be entitled to a written statement of employment particulars on day 1 of work.  Previously a written statement of terms had to be provided to employees (not workers) within two months of starting work.

2.      Changes to itemised pay statements - Pay slips must include additional information for individuals whose pay varies depending on the number of hours that they have worked. The right to payslips is extended to all workers and not just employees. 

3. Parental Bereavement Leave will allow employed parents paid leave for a minimum of two weeks on the death of a child.  A statutory payment will apply which at this stage is £140.98 per week.

4. Changes to the Agency Worker Regulations – Currently the regulations contain a “Swedish derogation”.  Currently, if agency workers are directly employed by an agency under a Swedish derogation contract, they do not acquire the right to equal pay compared with the hirer’s employees after 12 weeks on assignment. The Swedish derogation is being abolished from April 2020.  Agency workers can still be directly employed by an agency, but they will be entitled to equal pay compared to the hirer’s employees after 12 weeks on assignment.

5.Change to Holiday Pay reference period for workers with irregular hours or on zero hour contracts.   Holiday pay will be calculated by reference to an average over 52 weeks of employment, or up to 104 weeks in some cases, rather than the current 12 week period.

6Zero hours workers will have the right to require a more stable and predictable contract after six months service

There are 10 separate consultations on employment law matters taking place in GB, so there may be many more changes to come over the next 12 to 24 months.

Although employment law is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, developments in GB are normally indicative of what will happen in NI employment law.

How will Brexit affect employment law?

A significant proportion of the UK’s employment laws have their basis in EU legislation.  The UK leaves Europe today, 31 January.  There is to be an 11 month transition period, until 31 December 2020.  During the transition period, although the UK will cease to be an EU member, the trading relationship will remain the same and it will continue to follow the EU’s rules, such as accepting rulings from the European Court of Justice.

This means that the UK employment law will still be interpreted in accordance with European law, at least until 31 December 2020.  After that date, parties to litigation may potentially seek to challenge the law arising from controversial ECJ judgments, such as those relating to the calculation of holiday pay. As the position becomes clearer, we will keep you informed.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of this article, please get in touch with us.

 

 

 

 

The work Christmas party

With just a couple of weeks of work left until Christmas, attention is turning to the Christmas party in workplaces up and down the country. Without wanting to be seen as the “fun police”, it would be useful to take a few minutes to consider some issues that may cause an employer difficulty.

While the Christmas party can be a great time of fun with colleagues, it can also be fraught with difficulty for employers. When alcohol is involved, people sometimes act in ways that they would never behave in the workplace. The Christmas party is an extension of the workplace and an employer can be liable for the actions of employees at work Christmas parties.

If alcohol is permitted, employees should be encouraged to drink in moderation. Employees should be reminded in advance of the party of the organisation’s policies on equal opportunities and anti-harassment. A wise employer will remind employees that any actions that could be deemed to be aggressive or threatening or may constitute harassment of another employee will be dealt with immediately in accordance with the disciplinary procedure and may warrant dismissal.

Employers who take all reasonable steps to ensure that employees are protected from harassment will have a statutory defence to any Tribunal claim brought by an employee who feels that they have been the victim of harassment. It is therefore important to take some time to remind employees of the relevant policies and their specific applicability to the Christmas party. Employees should also be advised that they can be held personally liable for acts of discrimination and/or harassment against other members of staff.

So, from an employment law perspective, the message ahead of the Christmas party is – “Have a good time but make sure you treat everyone with the same dignity and respect that you show during a normal working day.”

Have a great Christmas!

This article is intended as a guide and for general information only and is not a substitute for taking specific advice relating to your situation. For specific advice regarding this or any other issue relating to employment law, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Casual workers’ rights

This month we are considering the rights of casual workers and how they differ from those of employees.

The term “casual worker” can be used to describe someone who undertakes work for an organisation on an ad hoc basis. The organisation is under no obligation to offer the casual worker any work and the worker does not have to accept work if it is offered.

Casual workers have some legal rights but not as many as employees. For instance, there is no requirement to provide a casual worker with a statement of main terms or an itemised payslip and no notice is required to terminate their agreement with a business. Having said this, we would always recommend writing down the terms of the agreement for clarity – particularly around the fact that the engagement is as a casual worker and not as an employee and that there is no obligation to provide work.

Casual workers cannot claim unfair dismissal if the organisation stops offering them work, they do not have to be provided with notice to terminate their engagement and they do not have the right to a redundancy payment.

There are however a number of important rights that casual workers do benefit from. They have the right not to suffer discrimination. They are further entitled to be paid at least the national minimum wage and they accrue and must be paid for annual leave. Casual workers also have the right to daily and weekly rest breaks and are subject to the same working time limitations as employees.

There has been a flurry of cases in the UK over the past number of years highlighting the issues a business can face when determining a worker’s employment status. Workers have brought cases to the tribunal as they have not been afforded rights or protections to which they believed they were entitled as they were unclear about their employment status.

The tribunal or court is then tasked with determining whether the individual was an employee, casual worker or self-employed worker. In light of these cases and the differences in rights afforded to employees, workers and the genuinely self-employed, we would recommend that all organisations take advice to ensure that they are attaching the correct status to the individuals engaged by the organisation.

Please get in touch with us to discuss this further if you engage people in your organisation and you would benefit from a review of their employment status.