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What does the absence of the Employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech mean for employees and employers?

Workers have been let down by the absence of the highly anticipated Employment Bill in the 2022 Queen’s Speech but arguably there are steps that employers should be considering anyway.  

The proposed Employment Bill was announced in December 2019 and was to be introduced when parliamentary time allowed – which it seems is yet to occur.  Whilst the pandemic was previously cited as the reason for the delay, this is the second year running that the proposed bill was not included in the Queen’s Speech making it clear that the provisions of the Bill (and perhaps worker rights generally) are currently not a priority for the government.

The Employment Bill was expected to include several measures proposed by the government to strengthen worker’s rights including the establishment of single state enforcement body, responsible for enforcing minimum wage requirements. The effect of this, and other measures that had been expected in the Employment Bill would have helped to alleviate some of the pressures on workers caused by the cost-of-living crisis.  The TUC has claimed that failure to introduce the Employment Bill is a “betrayal” – many employees would likely agree.

The Employment Bill was to contain the following provisions but there is, of course no reason why employers could not consider implementing some of them as a matter of policy in any event, perhaps alongside any other measures being implemented to help workers manage significantly increased living costs, or in preparation for “parliamentary time” freeing up:

  • The requirement for employers to pass on tips and service charges to employees.

Tips form a vital component of the remuneration of workers within hospitality, leisure, and services sectors. Currently there are no specific legal rules regarding payment of tips to workers, meaning that employers can (and many do) retain tips rather than passing them on. There has been increasing scrutiny on the lack of regulation in this area over the last few years and the Employment Bill was to include measures that will make it unlawful for employers to keep tips, instead requiring them to be passed on to workers without any deductions in a fair and transparent manner. If you operate in these sectors and don’t already have a documented transparent tip policy, making it clear what staff receive, when and how, you should consider implementing one.  Staffing in these sectors is an uphill struggle at the moment and a positive tips policy will be a recruitment selling point.

  • The right for those who work variable hours to request a stable contract after 26 weeks.

The Employment Bill was expected to include a new right for workers who work variable hours to request a more predictable and stable contract after 26 weeks. This allow workers, who are on precarious or uncertain contracts the opportunity to seek more certainty to plan their finances.  Whilst some employers may not be able to forward forecast in this way, those that can and are willing to implement more stable terms (even if that is a guaranteed minimum hours or minimum core hours contract with an ability to flex hours up or outside of the core) will benefit their workforce.  Every employer that operates variable hours can at least give some consideration to whether there are steps that they can take to provide some stability – those that don’t are likely to lose staff as they seek stability to offset financial concerns.

  • Day 1 right to request flexible working

The Employment Bill was to include measures to broaden the scope of the right to request flexible working – making it a day 1 right rather than requiring 26 weeks service as it does at present.  This would not make flexible working the default position, and would still require the employer to consider the business requirements against the employee’s needs, but the right to request at an earlier stage of employment would potentially open up more opportunities for those that need extra flexibility from the outset – such as carers and those with additional responsibilities outside the workplace.  Despite headline grabbing comments about getting staff back to the workplace from the likes of Lord Sugar, flexibility does seem to be key for so many staff – and if you want to recruit talent from a pool that values flexibility then it is something that you need to show you are willing to consider. It doesn’t mean that you have to grant the flexibility requested if there are business reasons not to – but showing you are willing to consider it earlier than the statutorily required point may put you ahead of the game in a recruitment battle.

  • Extending redundancy protection period for mothers on maternity leave.

The Employment Bill was expected to include an extension of the right to available suitable alternative employment on redundancy to cover pregnant employees and those within six months of returning from maternity leave, with similar rights for those returning from adoption and shared parental leave. The protection currently only exists for those who are on leave. Given that the effect of the cost of living crisis tends to be more acute for mothers and new parents, with the increasing and often unaffordable costs of childcare, this redundancy protection could have been invaluable.  This is not one that employers are likely to be considering given the potential knock on effect, but maybe maternity leave and pay and other statutory leave rights are something that employers should be looking at in terms of assisting employees with the rising cost of living.

Rather than waiting to see when the Employment Bill will be introduced (if at all) is it not incumbent on all employers to consider positive steps to support (and therefore retain) their workforces?  These changes are coming…… it’s a question of when – maybe smart to be ahead of the game (and competition)!

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