Employment law update


Emma Bramley, head of Coodes’ employment law team, runs through some of the latest employment law changes that came into effect last month

Extended paternity leave for new dads, time off for training and ‘fit notes’ are just some of the key changes that businesses should be aware of.

A significant update for couples with a baby on the way is the right to extended paternity leave of up to six months for dads whose child is due on or after April 3 2011.

Fathers are eligible if the mother or primary carer has returned to work without exercising their full entitlement and the child is aged between 20 weeks and one year old.

This is a great opportunity for parents to share childcare arrangements during the first year. For example, the mother can return to work after 20 weeks while the father takes on parenting for the remainder.

This also applies to parents who are adopting a child. There are restrictions however, so it’s worth finding out more from an employment specialist.

Other key changes that businesses should be aware of is that, depending on the size of the employer, employees will have the right to request time off for training or studying.

You must have been employed for 26 weeks before making the application to your employer and you can only make an application once every 12 months.

There are strict requirements as to the form of application and procedure to follow. If an employer fails to follow the procedure, an employee has the right to make a claim to the Employment Tribunal which has discretion to award up to eight weeks pay by way of compensation.

Meanwhile, GPs will no longer issue medical certificates for sick leave. Instead, they will issue a ‘Fit Note’ confirming that you are not fit for work, may be fit for work, or may be fit for work taking account of advice.

April 6 was also a significant date for progress on the Equality Bill 2009-2010, which is likely to affect employers. The Bill has completed its passage through Parliament and will now be submitted for Royal Assent, with provisions likely to take effect in October.

Under the Bill, employers will be unable to discriminate on grounds of:

• Sexual orientation, which has been widened

• Caste, adding to existing law against racial discrimination

• Carers of disabled people, under a new associate discrimination ruling

Employers will also be restricted on questioning potential employees about their health.

The Equality Act 2010 has two main purposes: to harmonise discrimination law and to strengthen it.

It also makes some significant changes. These include: a power to introduce regulations to make gender pay discrimination more transparent; a new type of claim for gender pay discrimination based on hypothetical comparators; new types of disability discrimination claim; and a widening of the definitions of direct discrimination and harassment to include claims based on ‘association’ and ‘perception’.

The Act also broadens the scope of permitted positive action to allow employers to choose between two equally-qualified candidates by selecting one from an under-represented minority.

People have been campaigning for equality on some of these issues for years. They will certainly impact on a company’s employment procedures and it’s vital that employers are up to speed.