In the Queen’s speech at the state opening of Parliament on 9 May, the Government set out its legislative programme for 2012-2013. The Coalition Government has undertaken fundamental reform of employment law which will continue into 2013.

The highlights of the proposals for employment law are as follows:

  • Reducing the regulatory burden on businesses.
  • Reform of the employment tribunal system.
  • Family friendly measures: a new system of shared parental leave.

The majority of these measures have already been subject to public consultation and there are no real surprises, although it had been expected that the implementation of shared parental leave would be delayed. Much of the detail is yet to be fleshed out, but set out below the expected implications of the Government’s legislative proposals announced today.

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill

This will be a wide-ranging Bill which is aimed at creating the right conditions for economic recovery by reducing regulatory burdens, introducing changes to employment law to give employers more confidence to hire new staff and strengthening the framework for setting directors’ pay. This is likely to encompass a number of aspects of employment law, drawing together proposals from several consultation exercises carried out between 2010 and 2012.

The Bill will overhaul the employment tribunal system. The report on the Underhill review of employment tribunal rules was expected at the end of April but has been delayed, so it is not clear at present what changes will be made to the system. This will not affect the changes which were brought in April i.e the 2 year qualifying period for unfair dismissal and the ability of judges to sit alone to hear unfair dismissal cases.

Children and Families Bill

The Government announced a range of measures designed to improve the lives of children and families. From an employment law perspective, this includes measures to make parental leave more flexible so that parents can share leave and balance work and family commitments. The plans for more flexible parental leave will allow women who want to return to work earlier after having a baby to do so, by effectively transferring some of their maternity leave entitlement to the baby’s father.

This is likely to mean implementation of proposals set out in the Modern Workplaces Consultation.

Maternity and paternity leave

It is likely that the Bill will:

  • Replace the 52 week maternity leave period with a maternity period of 18 weeks. This 18 week period will be reserved exclusively for the mother and will continue to be taken in a continuous block around the time of the baby’s birth;
  • Retain the two week period of ordinary paid paternity leave;
  • Introduce 34 weeks of flexible parental leave. Each parent will have exclusive use of four weeks of this leave, but the remaining period will be available to either parent on an equal basis;
  • Introduce 21 weeks of parental pay; and
  • Incorporate the existing right to unpaid parental leave within the new system of flexible parental leave.

Flexible working

It is not clear whether the Bill will implement the proposal to extend the right to request flexible working. The Modern Workplaces Consultation proposed giving all employees with the requisite service a statutory right to request flexible working arrangements and replacing the statutory process for considering flexible working requests with a new duty to consider requests “reasonably” in line with a new Code of Practice. However, this proposal is not explicitly referred to in the summary of the draft Bill published today.

Please contact me for advice  on the implications of this for your business or for help with any other human resource or employment issue at mnewman@ukemploymentlawadvice.co.uk or  on 07899697172