As the dust begins to settle on the Conservative election victory, Will Clift looks at the implications of a Conservative majority government for employment law.
In comparison to the Labour manifesto, the Conservative Party’s plans for employment law are reasonably limited. However, the Conservative manifesto did include several key policy pledges that employers should be aware of, including:
Zero hours contracts
Under so called zero hours contracts, employers do not provide their workers with minimum working hours, and workers are (ordinarily) not obliged to accept any work that they are offered. Following widespread criticism that such contracts lead to unacceptable levels of insecurity for workers, the government has already (through the Good Work Plan) promised to introduce legislation under which workers will have the right to request more predictable working hours, and this measure is referred to in the Party’s manifesto. The manifesto also refers to introducing other (as yet undefined) “reasonable protections”, which may include measures that are already under consultation, such as introducing a right for workers to have reasonable notice of work schedules.
The Conservatives have pledged to create an enforcement body with a brief to investigate and penalise employers who are found to be abusing employment law.
Work and families
The Conservative manifesto contains a very broad commitment to encourage flexible working, and to consult on introducing measures designed to make flexible working the “default” position, unless an employer has good reasons to refuse flexible working.
The Conservatives have also pledged to introduce legislation that will permit parents to take extended leave for neonatal care, and to “look at ways” to make it easier for fathers to take paternity leave.
Women on maternity leave are currently afforded special protection in redundancy situations (namely they are given priority over other potentially redundant employees in relation to suitable alternative roles). The Conservative manifesto refers to plans (which had already been announced by the government) to extend this protection to pregnant employees (meaning the protection would be available from the moment the employee informs her employer that she is pregnant), to women who have returned from maternity leave within the last six months, and to employees who have returned from adoption leave within the last six months.
National minimum wage
The Conservatives have promised to increase the National Living Wage to two thirds of average earnings (currently predicted to be £10.50 an hour) and extend the right to workers over the age of 21 (workers are currently only eligible if they are 25 or over).
The government has been keen to stress that workplace rights will continue largely as is post-Brexit, including European Union-derived legislation such as the Working Time Regulations (WTR).
The WTR has embedded the EU’s working time directive in UK law, and so, in principle, departure should not have an immediate impact. Brexit will, however, subject to any transition period, allow Parliament to amend or repeal these often complex and controversial regulations.
WTR rules surrounding holiday and sick leave have been a particular bone of contention for many years. For example, employees who fall ill while on holiday are entitled to claim those days back, and take them at a later date. Furthermore, employees continue to accrue rights to annual leave under the WTR while being on long-term sick leave, providing an opportunity for these rules to be abused.
We are yet to understand the government’s priorities post-Brexit. However, there appears to be some political will to amend the WTR. This may be welcome if it results in a simpler and more predictable system for employers and employees alike.