Employment reforms proposed in the Queen’s speech

Sarah Ozanne highlights the shake-ups the government is outlining for 2020

The aspects of the Queen’s speech relating to the employment bill were high in aspiration but short on detail or innovation. The government stated in the speech that it is going to “protect and enhance workers’ rights”, “promote fairness in the workplace” and “contribute to an environment of high employment and high standards”, but it provides little detail on how these aims will be achieved.

So what new employment legislation can employers expect for 2020?

There were several developments in employment law already in the pipeline at the time of the speech:

  • all workers being entitled to a written statement of key terms;
  • changes to the reference period to 52 weeks for calculating holiday pay;
  • changes in the information to be given by agencies to agency workers; and
  • changes to the off-payroll rules.

The government also announced that it would bring forward an employment bill, which would introduce:

A single labour market enforcement body

As initially proposed by Matthew Taylor’s Good work plan in 2017, this new body would amalgamate the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, HMRC and the Health and Safety Executive. The new body would have increased powers and resources to help improve awareness of and access to rights for vulnerable workers. Further detail is awaited.

A right for all workers to request a more predictable contract

The Good work plan also recommended a right for workers to request a contract with guaranteed hours after 12 months’ service, aimed at providing more certainty for those on zero-hours contracts. Under the employment bill, the government proposes a right for workers to request a more predictable contract after 26 weeks’ service, which, as well as reflecting the proposals of the Good work plan, overlaps with a European directive on transparent and predictable working conditions that came into force in July last year and contains a wider set of provisions. Member states are required to transpose the provisions of the directive into local law by 2022, but given the impact of Brexit it is unclear whether the UK will do this.

Ensuring that tips left for workers go to them in full

The government has also indicated that it will produce a statutory code of practice setting out the principles of fair distribution. This topic was consulted on in 2015 but no formal steps have yet been taken by the government to address the issue of employers deducting from tips. 

Extension of protection from redundancy for pregnant employees

This would take effect from the date an employer is notified of an employee’s pregnancy to a date six months after they return to work from maternity leave. This right could also be extended to those on adoption leave or shared parental leave. This proposal was the subject of consultation a year ago, with the government stating in July last year that it would bring forward legislation “when parliamentary time allows”. 

The introduction of a right to neonatal care leave and pay

Consultation on this formed part of a wider package of proposals for families in 2019, which included a broader review of family leave and pay. The consultation proposed one week’s leave for each week that the employee’s baby is in neonatal care. The entitlement would be a day one right with no qualifying period of service. 

As part of the same consultation the government proposed a duty on employers to consider whether a job could be done flexibly. As part of the employment bill the government is seeking to go further by making flexible working the default unless the employer has a good reason not to. 

2020 certainly looks to be a busy year for employment law. 

Sarah Ozanne is an employment lawyer at CMS