The Conservative Party made a number of ambitious employment-related pledges in their election manifesto, but now that they hold a comfortable majority, what “radical” changes can employers expect?

In a move more synonymous with Labour ideals, the second Queen’s Speech of 2019 announced the government’s plans for a new Employment Bill which would improve workers’ rights, promote fairness in the workplace, and establish a new single enforcement body to offer greater protections to workers.

Restating his commitment to delivering on his campaign promises, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed: “Once Brexit is done, we will continue to lead the way and set a high standard, building on existing employment law with measures which protect those in low-paid work. This is on top of the largest upgrade to workers’ rights in a generation that the government is bringing forward.”

"Once Brexit is done, we will continue to lead the way and set a high standard, building on existing employment law with measures which protect those in low-paid work. This is on top of the largest upgrade to workers' rights in a generation that the government is bringing forward."

Boris Johnson, Prime Minister

With many concerned that workers’ rights will suffer after Brexit, these Labour-esque promises were initially incorporated within the government’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill in a bid to win support from Labour MPs. However, any promises regarding workers’ rights after Britain leaves the EU were retracted from the version of the Bill which was accepted by MPs on 20 December, although the government has said that employment reform will be dealt with through its own separate legislation aimed at making Britain “the best place in the world to work”.

The Employment Bill, which promises to protect and enhance workers’ rights post-Brexit, will put the following proposals up for debate before Parliament (and with a majority government, it is likely that they will be passed).

1. Establishing a single enforcement body

Originating from the Good Work Plan, the government is proposing to establish a single market enforcement agency to ensure workers understand and exercise their legal rights, strengthen enforcement of these rights, and provide a single point of contact for all issues. As highlighted in a response from Citizens Advice, rights are only as strong as your ability to enforce them, and the creation of a single body will serve to expand the remit of current labour market enforcement. For employers, this means heightened scrutiny over employment practices, intensifying the need to fully understand the intricacies of employment law and respond to issues fairly and consistently.

2. Requiring employers to hand over 100% of tips to workers

The Bill proposes to legislate a ban on employers taking administrative fees or other deductions from tips. The proposal, which has been praised by many, is intended to “support those working hard” and will be accompanied by a statutory Code of Practice to establish rules for fair and transparent distribution. This change to tipping policy was another reform outlined in the Good Work Plan but, three years on, an implementation date is still awaited.

3. Giving workers the right to request a more predictable contract

The Bill proposes to legislate a ban on employers taking administrative fees or other deductions from tips. The proposal, which has been praised by many, is intended to “support those working hard” and will be accompanied by a statutory Code of Practice to establish rules for fair and transparent distribution. This change to tipping policy was another reform outlined in the Good Work Plan but, three years on, an implementation date is still awaited.

4. Enhancing redundancy protection for new and expectant mothers

After a report by the Women and Equalities Committee back in 2016 demanded urgent action against the stark increase in workplace pregnancy discrimination over the past decade, the government announced plans to prohibit redundancy from the point an employee notifies their employer that they are pregnant until six months after the end of their pregnancy or leave, except for in specified circumstances. The Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill was introduced to the House of Commons in May 2019 but failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the end of the session.

5. Extending leave for neonatal care

An idea inherited from Theresa May’s government, the Bill is set to include plans to allow parents of sick and premature babies one week of state-funded leave and pay for each week their baby is in hospital, rather than having to rely on maternity/paternity/annual leave. With around 100,000 babies in need of neonatal care each year, the plans aim to relieve some of the stress placed on parents who are often forced to return to work before their new-born comes home.

6. Introducing entitlement to a week’s leave for unpaid carers

The Conservatives pledged not once but three times within their manifesto to “extend the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers, the majority of whom are women, to a week”. The plans were initially prompted by a report from the Work and Pensions Committee in 2018, which emphasised the vital contribution made by carers in supporting some of the most vulnerable in society. Back in July, the government launched a consultation on parental leave entitlements; however, while this addressed neonatal leave and statutory paternity leave for fathers, it did not address care leave for unpaid carers, so plans are yet to get off the ground.

7. Making flexible working the default

The government proposes to help workers balance their professional and home commitments by consulting on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reasons not to allow it. The change will no doubt be popular with workers, and while employers may find the prospect daunting, greater flexibility may be mutually beneficial, leading to reduced absence rates, enhanced productivity, and improving employers’ ability to attract and retain talent.

James Tamm

Director of Legal Services

Expert Comment

On the face of it, the Conservative party’s plans laid out in the Queen’s speech do contain a number of additional safeguards for workers, which is perhaps not what one would expect from a Tory government. However, it must be remembered that the speech has only laid out in broad terms what the government proposes to do. The devil is always in the detail, so we will need to see the full draft Bill and how that is amended at various parliamentary stages before forming any firm conclusions. Indeed, the fact that the government has already rowed back from the previous proposed guarantees about workers’ rights post-Brexit is perhaps a sign of things to come.

Make light work of legislative changes

Concerned about the potential impact of proposed employment reforms on your organisation? Need straightforward, professional support with contingency planning ahead of Brexit and changes to the immigration system?

With ongoing support from a dedicated, highly-qualified Employment Law Adviser, Ellis Whittam can help your organisation prepare for and adapt to legislative changes so that you can meet your 2020 objectives without unnecessary barriers or distractions. With scrutiny on employers set to intensify, our experts can guide you through any employee relations issues you may face quickly and compliantly, helping you to avoid legal risk and ensure the stability of your team.

To talk through your specific requirements and enquire about our unlimited, fixed-fee Employment Law and HR support, call 0345 226 8393 or request a free consultation using the button below.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

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We combine the service quality of a law firm with the certainty of fixed-fee services to provide expert, solutions-focused Employment LawHR and Health & Safety support tailored to employers.

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We combine the service quality of a law firm with the certainty of fixed-fee services to provide expert, solutions-focused Employment LawHR and Health & Safety support tailored to employers.

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