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This article first featured in Insurance Business on May 8, 2024.

It is the second of three articles focusing on recent changes to employment law.

While 2024 may not have produced many headline-grabbing changes to employment legislation, it has seen numerous reforms that businesses should be aware of, and there’s more to come.

The legislative calendar is still uncertain, with the general election date still to be set. However, most of the outstanding changes aren’t particularly contentious, so they’re unlikely to be reversed even if a change of government is imminent.

The exception is obviously any change to tax or National Insurance.

The first cut to Class 1 NICs, announced in last year’s Autumn Statement, took effect from January 6th. The changes to other rates were not updated until April 6th, by which time the Chancellor had announced a deeper cut to NI, in his Spring Budget.

Suggestions that a general election could be delayed until December or even January, could give the government one last Autumn Statement to make an appeal via voters’ payslips. However, the risks of campaigning in the aftermath of an attention-grabbing and potentially chaotic US election seem to make an October date more appealing.

Whenever we vote and whatever the outcome, it’s hard to predict what changes the next government may make before the end of the year, though any further tweaks are unlikely to be implemented before 2025.

Working time and holiday entitlement

The rules around holiday pay, annual leave and working time records, were crying out for clarification and simplification, as work patterns have changed enormously in recent years.

Legislative changes implemented in January aimed to clarify an uncertain position, following both Brexit and the 2019 UK Supreme Court judgment in the case of Harpur Trust v Brazel.

The existing Working Time Regulations - under which employers had to keep extensive records of daily working hours and breaks - were both confusing and onerous. Since January, such records need only be accurate and proportionate.

Simplification of the regulations on accruing holiday and calculating holiday pay was also long overdue. The Employment Rights (Amendment, Revocation and Transitional Provision) Regulations 2023 are still extensive and quite complex, but they simplify and clarify the position for employers.

While most of the changes took effect from January, an amendment to the requirements for TUPE - Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) - consultations, for small businesses or any business transferring fewer than 10 employees, will apply from July 1st.

Flexible and equal

One small change that might have slipped by unnoticed in January, was an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 which refined its definition of “disability” and extended the right to claim indirect discrimination while specifically identifying sex discrimination around breast-feeding.

Then, in April, the Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act 2023 extended employees’ rights to request flexible working arrangements. The Act makes it easier for employees to request flexible working and slightly harder for employers to deny it.

From April 6th, the Carer’s Leave Act 2023 grants employees a right to take at least a week’s leave to either arrange or provide care for any dependent with long-term care needs. Employers cannot deny employees such leave, penalise them for taking it or even require evidence to support their request.

Passed in May last year, the Neonatal Care (Leave & Pay) Act 2023 will not come into force until 2025. The Act grants new parents as much as 12 weeks’ additional paid leave while their baby is under neonatal care. The new right is only for employees but will apply from their first day of employment.

More to come

While these may be this year’s key employment law changes, the list is far from exhaustive and new rules impact companies in different ways.

Workers earning the National Minimum or National Living Wage, for example, should already be benefitting from this month’s changes which saw the headline rate increase by almost 10% to £11.44, while a lower age threshold for the rate brought in all workers over 21.

Businesses employing staff who receive tips should also know that the Employment (Allocation of Tips) Act 2023 will fulfil a government commitment first made in 2018, to ensure the fair distribution of tips and services charges, from July.

Other pieces of employment legislation at various stages of their passage through Parliament, address issues as diverse as leave for fertility treatment and regulating the use of minimum qualification or experience requirements in job applications.

Whether any of these is passed, by this government or the next, 2024 has certainly been a bumper year for changes to employment law.

Disclaimer - all information in this article was correct at time of publishing.