June 9, 2014
This year’s Queen’s Speech was the last before the 2015 general election and included a relatively light legislative programme of just 11 new bills. Some of the key employment changes being proposed include changes to childcare, the national minimum wage, and zero-hours contracts. But in fact a key development which was not included in the Queen’s Speech, and yet could have the most pronounced effect on employers is the extension of the right to request flexible working. From 30 June 2014, employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment will be able to make a request for flexible working for any reason under the new statutory scheme. The procedure to be followed will be far less prescriptive than that currently in force and will place more onuson the employer to consider the request and any alternatives to the proposed request. An employee can trigger the procedure by making a written request. Only one request can be made in any 12-month period. The employer then has the three-month decision period (which can be extended by agreement) within which to consider the request, discuss it with the employee and notify the employee of the outcome.
Other measures which were covered in the Queen’s Speech include:
Childcare Subsidy A new state-funded childcare subsidy worth up to £2,000 a year will be introduced, replacing the existing schemes. The new tax-free scheme will be phased in from Autumn 2015 and will eventually be open to 2.5 million families. This is no doubt welcome news to many parents, as it should result in a simpler system for helping families with the costs of childcare. The current Childcare Voucher system is complex and imposes fairly onerous obligations on the employer which is partly why so few offer it now.
National Minimum Wage Tougher penalties will be introduced to fine employers who fail to pay the minimum wage, which is currently £6.50 per hour for adults over 21. The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill will introduce an increased penalty of up to £20,000. The Government will also increase the financial penalty percentage from 50 per cent to 100 per cent of the unpaid wages owed to the workers being underpaid. This is in addition to the penalty fine.
Zero-Hours Contracts As highly anticipated, the Queen’s Speech announced a focus on restricting the abuse of zero hours’ contracts, with a proposed ban on exclusivity clauses. These clauses try to prevent employees working for more than one company despite offering no guaranteed hours of work.
Public Servants Redundancy Pay-offs In what is clearly a response to recent dismay at excessive redundancy payments for highly-paid public servants, measures will be put in place to curtail large pay-offs for senior public servants taking redundancy.