Changes to employment legislation taking shape

by Lara Murray

Government pledges to cut red tape for employers have taken a significant step forward after the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (ERRA) and the Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 (GIA) both received Royal Assent, meaning they have now become law.

The ERRA includes a number of reforms, with one of the lesser-publicised changes being the removal of the two-year qualifying period for unfair dismissal protection where the employee has been dismissed on the grounds of their political opinions or affiliations. This follows a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of Redfearn v United Kingdom, in which bus driver Arthur Redfearn was made redundant on “health and safety” grounds after he was elected as a councillor for Bradford, representing the British National Party. Mr Redfearn lost an Employment Tribunal but won an appeal which was then challenged by his employer, Serco Ltd, in the Court of Appeal, which found in favour of the employer. However, Mr Redfearn took his fight to the ECHR, which ruled that failing to provide protection in the UK for employees dismissed for their political beliefs was a breach of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

From an employer’s perspective, they will still need to follow a fair process and presumably will need to rely upon “some other substantial reason” as the potentially fair reason for dismissal.

Another ERRA reform which has not had as much attention as others is the outlawing of discrimination on the grounds of caste. We have yet to see the introduction of the appropriate regulations to address this matter, which will be published within the next two years, along with further guidance. It is worth noting that the Equality and Human Rights Commission considers that caste falls within matters relating to race. However, there have not yet been any test cases.

Despite a poor response to proposals for employee shareholder provisions during consultation, the proposals have nonetheless been included in the GIA. Fierce opposition from the House of Lords when the original Bill ‘ping-ponged’ between both Houses of Parliament has resulted in a number of concessions, including a requirement for employees to seek independent legal advice, paid for by the employer, before they can become an employee shareholder. There must also be a seven-day cooling-off period before any arrangements are considered legally binding. This may cause some employers to think twice before entering into any such arrangements.

Although many of the measures contained in either Acts are yet to be implemented, the onus is still on the employer to ensure that they are fully up to date with any changes which may affect them. Ignorance will be no excuse if an employer falls foul of the law. If in doubt, it is always best to seek professional advice from an employment law specialist.

Lara Murray is an employment law solicitor at Palmers Solicitors, in Basildon, advising clients across a wide range of sectors. She is a member of the Employment Lawyers Association and can assist businesses in relation to all employment law matters, including discrimination claims, disciplinary and dismissal procedures and employee shareholder contracts. For further information, please contact Lara on 01268 240000 or email lmurray@palmerslaw.co.uk.