Employment Law Update – what to expect in 2014
This employment law update features a Q&A on the proposed changes to the right to request flexible working; accommodating breastfeeding in the workplace; an overview of the new mandatory pre-claim conciliation procedure (which comes into force in April), and proposals to make zero hour contracts unlawful.
1. Q&A – Proposed changes to the right to request flexible working
The House of Commons has agreed a revised target date of 21 March 2014 for the Children and Families Bill to receive Royal Assent, with a proposed implementation date of 6 April 2014. However, the implementation date may be pushed back further. The Q&A below explains some of the proposed changes.
Who will be able to request flexible working?
The amendments will remove the current requirement that an employee must qualify as a parent or carer to request changes to their hours or place of work. All employees with the necessary period of service (currently 26 weeks) will therefore have the right to request flexible working.
Will employers have to follow a specific procedure when dealing with such a request?
Employers will no longer need to follow the specific statutory procedure contained in the Flexible Working (Procedural Requirements) Regulations 2002. Employers will be able to bring such requests within the framework of their current HR procedures. The base requirement is that the request must be dealt with “in a reasonable manner”. Acas has published a new guide on handling requests for flexible working in a reasonable manner. A copy of the guidance can be found here.
How quickly must a request for flexible working be dealt with?
The employer must notify any employee who makes a request for flexible of a decision within three months of the date of the request. The employer will be entitled to request that the employee attend meetings to discuss the request, and if the employee misses more than two consecutive meetings without good reason, the employer will be entitled to treat any request for flexible working as withdrawn. If the employer wrongly treats the request as withdrawn, or fails to make a decision within the time period and there is no agreed extension, the employee may bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal. Under the new regime it will be imperative to consider a request for flexible working carefully and timeously.
2. New Acas guidance on breastfeeding in the work place
Acas has recently published a guide on accommodating breastfeeding employees in the workplace. The aim of the guidance is to identify the employer’s legal requirements when responding to employee requests for facilities to express and store milk. It also offers some good practice suggestions on how to facilitate the return of the employees back to work. A copy of the guidance can be found here
3. Mandatory Pre-Claim Acas Conciliation
From 6 April 2014, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 will impose a duty on theprospective parties to any claim and Acas to undertake pre-claim conciliation of most potential Employment Tribunal claims. Claimants will be required to include their unique Early Conciliation (EC) reference number given by ACAS on their ET1 to demonstrate that they have satisfied the EC requirement. The proposed steps are as follows:
Step 1: The prospective claimant must send “prescribed information” in the “prescribed manner” (a new form “EC”) to Acas either by submitting the online version on the ACAS website, or by post. This will contain the prospective claimant’s name, address, contact numbers andemail address and the prospective respondent’s name, address and telephone number.
Step 2: An early conciliation support officer (ECSO) will then make reasonable attempts to contact the prospective claimant and, only with the prospective claimant’s consent, then try and contact the prospective respondent.
Step 3: Where the prospective claimant wishes to conciliate, the ESCO will pass the file to a conciliator. The conciliator will make reasonable attempts to contact the prospective respondent. If the conciliator makes contact with the prospective respondent but they decline early conciliation then the conciliator will notify the prospective claimant and issue an EC certificate.
Step 4: If a settlement is not reached, either because the conciliation officer considers that settlement is not possible, or because the prescribed period expires, Acas will issue an EC certificate.
4. Zero Hours Contracts Bill 2013-2014
The Zero Hours Contracts Bill was presented to Parliament on 24 June 2013. The draft law seeks to make it unlawful to issue a zero hour’s contract, and that any such contract would be void. Whilst the draft legislation is a private members’ bill (and thus unlikely to become law in its current form) employers can expect to hear a crescendo of political cries for zero hour contracts to be greatly reduced.
Philip Henson, Partner and Head of Employment Law
Direct line: 020 7549 7872
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