12 February 2016 by

Employment Law: What’s on the horizon for 2016?

Every year brings with it new legislative changes and new issues to be tackled. We have summarised below the main legal changes, and some recent case law, that is likely to impact you in 2016.

  1. Prepare for a Wage Hike

The National Living Wage will increase basic pay to £7.20 for workers aged 25 and over in April 2016. But bear in mind that living wages are set to hike up to £9.00 per hour by 2020. These additional costs will need to be factored into business planning now. You may also find costs from suppliers going up to cover the extra wage costs.

2. Zero Hour Contacts and Changes in the Tribunal

Exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts were banned in 2015. This means that employers are prohibited from having contractual terms that stop zero hours workers from working elsewhere.

From 11 January 2016, new regulations aim to address avoidance of the ban by giving employees working under zero hours contracts the power to complain to an Employment Tribunal where they have been dismissed, or subjected to a detriment, if the reason or main reason relates to non-compliance with an exclusivity clause. Tribunals have also been given a further new power to impose financial penalties from £100 to £5,000 when orders or Acas conciliation settlement agreements are not complied with.

3. New immigration Offence

The Immigration Bill renews efforts to curb illegal working, and prevent the exploitation of migrant workers, by putting in place much tougher enforcement and sanctions on employers who do not properly check that an employee has the right to work in the UK.

Firstly, the Bill makes illegal working a criminal offence in its own right and enables the wages of an illegal worker to be recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.

Secondly, it is clear from the Bill that a crackdown on illegal working is continuing by the severe penalties which can be levied against employers, which are:

  • a fine of up to £20,000 per illegal worker; and
  • convictions on indictment (with maximum sentences increased from 2 to 5 years).

Prevention of illegal working, and checking that all employees have the right to work in the UK, are now requirements that should not be ignored or glossed over.

4. Shared Parental Rights

Shared parental leave is set to dramatically change in 2018. Changes coming into force will extend the right for mothers (who can currently only share their leave with a partner) to share parental leave with one nominated grandparent. These changes signal the Government’s commitment to create flexibility for mothers to continue to work, and mirror the European approach to parental leave.

5. Employees’ Private Messages – Beware

Lastly, in a recent case (Bărbulescu v Romania) that hit the headlines, an employer requested an employee (a Romanian national) to set up a Yahoo messenger account so that he could respond to client enquiries and this account was monitored by the employer.

An investigation took place and it was found that the employee had used the Yahoo messenger account to send personal messages, including information about his sex life, contrary to internal policy. The employee was dismissed and unsuccessful with his claim against his dismissal before the Romanian courts.

The employee issued a subsequent claim with the European Court of Human Rights (“ECtHR”) against the Romanian state. The ECtHR held that the employee’s dismissal was fair on the basis that the monitoring of his Yahoo messenger account struck a fair balance between the employer’s interests and respect for the employee’s private life.

However, employers should remain cautious about the extent that they access private information about employees on work-related media platforms. You must have a fair and lawful reason to access such data and you must act in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.

For help and advice on any of these issues, please contact one of our solicitors in the Employment team here.

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