So, 2012 doesn’t seem to be shaping up too badly so far. The New Year has already witnessed some major developments in the contractor realm, with HMRC winning their battle in a landmark tax tribunal case, a 19% increase in temporary staff recruitment and the first stages of the employment law reforms coming into force.
But what else can you expect in the remainder of 2012?
1. Employment law reforms
The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, recently outlined the Government’s major plans for the employment law reform, advising that these substantial measures are designed to “deregulate and reduce the onerous and unnecessary demands on businesses”, whilst “safeguarding worker’s rights”. So, what are the key areas of change you need to know about?
Qualifying period for unfair dismissal protection. Perhaps the biggest change in the 2012 reform is the increase of the qualifying period for an employee to bring an unfair dismissal claim, from one year to two years. This change comes into force on 6 April 2012. The Government has said that this increase aims to "provide more time for employers and employees to resolve difficulties, give employers greater confidence in taking on people and ease the burden on the employment tribunal process".
Employment tribunal procedure. Following a review of the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedure, the Government expects to introduce substantial changes to employment tribunal procedure on 6 April 2012. These are believed to include the introduction of tribunal fees. Watch this space!
Maternity, paternity, adoption and sick pay increases. From 1 April 2012, the standard rate of statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay will increase from £128.73 to £135.45 per week and from 6 April 2012, statutory sick pay will increase from £81.60 to £85.85 per week.
Fines. One of the proposals includes fining employers up to £5,000 (on top of damages) if they lose a tribunal case. Interestingly, the proposed fine would not apply to employees, so it may be perceived as a revenue raising exercise. Yet, it could mean that even more cases are settled rather than going to a full hearing.
Protected conversations. A consultation is expected to take place into ‘protected conversations’. These would allow employers to openly raise issues such as poor performance or retirement plans without the fear that their words will be used against them in a tribunal. The objective is to encourage employers to have rational conversations that they should already be having but are afraid to.
It is more than 100 days since the Agency Worker Regulations came into force, to some this may have resulted in some significant changes and to others it may have made no difference at all. Either way, in the recruitment world, the Agency Worker Regulations still play a key role.
Although there are currently no further planned legislative changes for 2012, there is still plenty of ongoing work. For instance, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), a major priority, which remains for recruiters, is helping employers understand and approach the regulations. As a result, the REC said that providing ongoing support to members and monitoring the impact would take precedence in 2012.
3. Pension reforms
The auto-enrolment of worker into workplace pension schemes may prove to be one of the biggest challenges of the year for some businesses. From 1 October 2012, employers with 50 or more employees must automatically enrol eligible employees and make mandatory employer contributions, into a qualifying workplace pension schemes or the National Employment Savings Trust (Nest).
The auto-enrolment will be introduced in parallel to the agency Workers Regulations 2010 and will fill the "pensions gap" left by these regulations. Under the Pensions Act 2008, which sets out details of the NEST regime, employers or agencies will be obliged to make pension arrangements for agency workers in the same way they will have to provide for the rest of their workforce, with automatic enrolment and compulsory contributions. Significantly, this infers that not only will the new pensions regime extend to agency workers by classifying them as eligible jobholders, it also disposes of the qualifying 12 week period for equal treatment provided for in the Regulations and essentially becomes a day 1 right.
4. Additional Bank Holiday
Last year we got the Royal Wedding, this year we get the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee! Hooray! Typically, there are two bank holidays in May: one on the first Monday and another on the last. This year however, the latter May bank holiday is being pushed back one week to Monday 4 June, meaning Monday 28 May will be a standard working day. In addition, a further “celebratory” Bank Holiday has been declared for Tuesday 5 June to mark the occasion of the Queens Diamond Jubilee. Employers – you should anticipate this to be a prime time for annual leave requests. Over the coming months, we’ll keep you posted on how else this event might affect your business.
5. Anticipating disruption during Olympics
This year London will host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, beginning with the Torch Relay on 19 May and concluding on 9 September. Whilst many of us (those lucky enough to get a ticket) will excitedly be awaiting this historic occasion, employers will be anticipating the disruption it will bring. Although the majority of events will take place in London, there are further venues based right across the country. In addition, various locations have been designated as “Travel Hotspots”.
So to help employers prepare, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), has produced some free guidance notes: London 2012 Games, Planning information for businesses. This provides the basic information on staffing issues, homeworking, avoiding travel disruption and issues on safety and security. Additionally, it explains which areas will be affected and who to contact if you require more detailed advice.
All the best for 2012!