Workers’ rights have long since been protected by law… to an extent. However, in 2019 the Conservative government promised to introduce a unified Employment Bill which would hold British businesses accountable across the board.
As part of this, workers would have more protection from unfair discrimination and zero-hour contracts would be further restricted with workers being able to request a more predictable contract after 26 weeks’ service. Employees would also be able to request flexible working from day one of employment and would be guaranteed to receive all tips, and receive paid leave for certain personal circumstances.
Despite the popularity of the Bill, it has not yet been taken forward, having been left out of the Queen’s Speech for the second year in a row leading to backlash from workers, businesses, and unions alike.
In this article, Katie Ash, Head of Employment Law at Banner Jones Solicitors, explores what the Employment Bill would mean for workers, and outlines why businesses should consider implementing these changes as soon as possible regardless of the delays.
A planned Employment Bill was first announced in December 2019 in the Queen’s Speech, fuelled by concerns that workers’ rights could be affected by Brexit.
In the main, it was intended to tackle issues such as pregnancy discrimination, unfair dismissal, and lack of rights relating to flexible working requests. However, while plans to introduce the Bill are still in motion, its progress through Parliament has been hit with numerous delays.
This has sparked a backlash from workers, unions, and organisations alike, who are keen to improve working conditions across the UK for everyone.
But what exactly did the Bill promise?
- The creation of a single enforcement body that will offer greater protection for workers
- A guarantee that workers receive tips in full
- The right for workers to ask for a more predictable contract after 26 weeks of working on variable hours
- Extending redundancy protection for maternity and pregnancy by extending the protected period by 6 months
- Parents allowed to take paid extended leave for neonatal care
- Guaranteeing carers one week’s unpaid leave
- A proposal for making flexible working the default position unless employers have a valid reason not to allow this
As TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, failing to implement the Employment Bill means that “bad bosses” will be “celebrating,” as vital rights risk being ignored and dismissed.
However, in my experience as an employment lawyer, many of the rights mentioned fall into best practice anyway, which all businesses – especially those that want to attract and retain good staff in an increasingly competitive market – should be considering regardless.
One of the key areas of focus for the Bill was to allow workers to request flexible working from day one of their employment contract. Post-pandemic, that’s a hot topic, and businesses in all different sectors are now considering a hybrid model that works for everybody.
Equally, allowing parents extended leave if their baby is in neonatal care will give them the time and space needed to deal with what is undoubtly a difficult and traumatic situation. In doing so, the employer is putting the employee’s mental and physical health and wellbeing first, meaning they are likely to be far stronger when they do return.
Embracing changes such as this wholeheartedly, not only protects your workers, but improves loyalty and morale, and will no doubt strengthen your reputation in the eyes of both your team, and your customers.
Retention and recruitment aside, business owners should also be mindful that this is legislation which will still come into force sooner rather than later. When it does, contracts, company policies and handbooks will need to reflect the changes, and internal training might be required.
For example, those with line management responsibilities will need to know the correct procedure if an employee requests a change to their working hours. Equally, businesses that rely heavily on shift workers may need to consider amendments to their contracted hours.
Starting the process now will help to ensure that businesses are not ‘caught short’ when the new rights do come in to law. Failing to do so could land bosses in hot water for unwittingly breaching workers’ rights, and potentially facing legal action, fines or wider sanctions.
If you would like further information on how you can protect the rights of your workers, implement changes mentioned in the proposed Employment Bill, or discuss flexible working and staff training, please get in touch with the Banner Jones’ Employment Law Team on 0344 659 9049