Are Private Members’ Bills the new hope for employment law reform?

Recent announcements suggest the government has moved away from amending UK employment law via an all-encompassing Employment Bill. Instead, it is supporting changes proposed by backbench MPs through various Private Members’ Bills (PMBs). 

The Queen’s Speech in December 2019 announced the government’s intention to bring about various employment law reforms, in particular those recommended in the Taylor Review and subsequent consultations, via an Employment Bill. However, no draft Bill has yet materialised, with the suggestion that it will be delayed ‘until Parliamentary time allows’. Several backbench MPs have, however, introduced separate PMBs which cover much of the same ground as the intended Employment Bill and which have received government backing. 

Carer’s Leave Bill

The Carer’s Leave Bill, introduced by Wendy Chamberlain MP, passed its second reading on 21 October 2022.

  • The Bill proposes a new flexible entitlement of one week’s unpaid leave per year for employees who are providing or arranging care for a dependant with a long-term care need.
  • It will not matter how long the employee has been employed for – leave will be available from the first day of employment.
  • Employees will not need to provide evidence of how the leave is being used or for whom it is used.
  • Leave can be taken flexibly, either as half days or full days, up to the full week entitlement.
  • Employees on Carer’s Leave will get the same protections, including protection from dismissal or detriment as a result of having taken it, as associated with other forms of family related leave (such as Maternity, Paternity, Adoption, Parental Bereavement, Shared Parental and Parental Leave).

The report stage and third reading are scheduled to take place on 3 February 2023.

Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill

This Bill, introduced by Yasmin Qureshi MP, passed its second reading on 28 October 2022. The Bill seeks to amend the existing flexible working application process.

  • Employers will be required to consult with the employee before rejecting any flexible working request. 
  • Employees will be able to make two statutory requests for flexible working in any 12-month period. This is compared to just one request currently.
  • Employers will need to make a decision on the flexible working request within two months, rather than three months as currently.
  • Employees will no longer need to explain what effect the change will have on the employer, nor suggest how the change might be dealt with, as part of their request.

The Bill has been sent to a Public Bill Committee which will meet on 7 December 2022.

Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill

This Bill, introduced by Dan Jarvis MP, passed its second reading on 21 October 2022.

Currently, employees on maternity leave who are in a redundancy situation must be offered suitable alternative employment where it continues. 

  • The Bill seeks to extend the protected period during which the right to be offered suitable alternative vacancies exists. The protected period would run from when a woman formally notifies her employer of her pregnancy up to 18 months after the birth. 
  • These redundancy protections would also be extended to those on shared parental leave or adoption leave.

The Public Bill Committee has been scheduled for 3 February 2023.

Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill

The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill was introduced by Wera Hobhouse MP and passed its second reading on 21 October 2022.

  • The Bill seeks to create liability for employers for harassment of their employees by third parties.
  • Employers will have a duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent third party harassment of their employees. Employers will be liable if they breach this duty, even where there was only one instance of harassment.
  • Employers will also have a duty to take reasonable steps to prevent sexual harassment of employees in the course of their employment. 
  • The bill introduces a compensation uplift of up to 25% on the amount that the tribunal can award in cases of sexual harassment where there has also been a breach of the employer duty.

The Bill’s report stage and third reading are scheduled to take place on 3 February 2023.

Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill

The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill was introduced by Stuart C McDonald MP and the government announced its support for the Bill on 15 July 2022.

  • The Bill introduces a right for parents to take up to 12 weeks paid neonatal leave where their child is receiving, or has received, neonatal care. 
  • As long as parents meet the criteria, eligibility for this leave will begin on day 1 of working for their employer. 
  • The Bill will provide a prescribed rate of pay that employees will receive while on neonatal leave, where the employee has worked at least 26 weeks with their current employer. As with other paid statutory leave, employers will be able to reclaim payment from the government.
  • Employees on neonatal leave will have the same employment protections as those on other family related leave like Maternity and Shared Parental Leave.

The Bill is due to have its report stage and third reading on 3 February 2023.

Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill

This Bill, sponsored by Virginia Crosbie MP, passed its second reading on 15 July 2022, and the Committee stage took place on 12 October 2022.

  • The Bill will require employers across all sectors to allocate all tips, gratuities and service charges which they are paid or which they exercise control or significant influence over to their workers without deducting anything. 
  • Employers will need to distribute the tips fairly between their workers and have regard to a statutory code of practice when allocating the tips which is currently being developed in consultation with stakeholders.
  • Employment tribunals will have the power to revise tip allocation and make payment to their employees.
  • Employers will need to have a written policy setting out how tips are to be dealt with in their workplace. Employers will need to keep a record of tips they have received and how they have been allocated to the workforce that can be produced on request.
  • This bill will not affect situations where the employer does not currently have control over how tips are dealt with.

The remaining stages of the Bill will be considered on 20 January 2023.

What does this mean for employers?

At the moment, the PMBs still have several stages to pass through before they can become law, and even then, some will require additional regulations to set out the detail.  
Employers should, however, keep a watching brief on the passage of these PMBs. They should also take this time to consider what policies and procedures the PMBs might impact within their organisation if they are passed and what approach the organisation wants to take towards any new rights. For instance, the fact that the proposed carer’s leave is unpaid may make it difficult for employees to take full advantage of this right and employers may want to consider providing some paid leave in addition should this PMB become law.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.

 

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