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Spring – A Time For Change in UK Employment and Data Protection Law

By Pia Padfield, Associate in the London Office of Ogletree Deakins

Spring is always a time for new beginnings; the end of the financial year and the start of a new one, election time and the clocks moving forward for daylight savings time. In the UK, Spring also heralds new changes in Employment and Data Protection law. Below are some of the key changes to UK employment law to be aware of.

Shared Parental Leave

New rights came into force on 1 December 2014 which allow parents whose child is expected in the week beginning 5 April 2015 or after to share leave following the birth or adoption of their child. The existing scheme of additional paternity leave and paternity pay will be abolished from April 2015 and the existing maternity and parental leave framework has been remodeled to introduce the new system. The rights also apply to adoptive parents and same sex couples.

Women will continue to be entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave and receive up to 39 weeks as paid leave but now up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay is able to be shared between the two parents (after the expiry of a two-week compulsory maternity leave period). Parents can take this leave at the same time as each other, or consecutively as long as they do not take more than the total amount of Shared Parental leave available to them. Parents can also take Shared Parental leave as discontinuous periods, interspersing periods of work with periods of leave.

Shared Parental Leave is optional and if parents do not choose to participate then the position will remain that mothers are entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave and 39 weeks paid. However, additional paternity leave and pay will no longer be available for babies who are expected on or after 5 April 2015 so fathers choosing not to participate in Shared parental leave will only be entitled to 2 weeks ordinary paternity leave and pay.

There is a strict procedure to follow for parents wanting to take advantage of Shared Parental Leave and any request can be refused by employers if the proper notices have not been given.

Actions to take:

•  Employers should review and amend their family leave policies so that they are compliant with the recent changes in law and, if needed, should introduce a clear Shared Parental Leave policy outlining an employee’s entitlement and the notices and documents which need to be completed to take advantage of Shared Parental leave.
•  Companies will need to consider whether or not to offer any enhanced payment for shared parental leave and be aware of the potential risks in offering an enhanced payment for maternity leave but not for shared parental leave.
•  HR and Managers should also be fully aware of the new legislation and be trained on the procedure and on any particular approach that the Company wishes to take on requests for leave.

Data Protection – Criminal records checks

From 10 March 2015 it is now a criminal offence for employers to force job applicants and employees to obtain and then provide a copy of their criminal record by means of a subject access request under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). This is to provide more protection to individuals who may have been forced to reveal details of their convictions through this route which an employer may not be entitled to request under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

The new offence applies to employees and prospective employees as well as individuals who contract to provide services to another.

The new law does not prevent employers from using the formal criminal record check system (the Disclosure and Barring Service) to verify an individual’s criminal history if permitted to do so.

Increase to Compensation awards in the Tribunal – in force from 6 April 2015

The main increases are:

•  Unfair Dismissal Compensation award cap: increases to £78,335 from £76,574
•  Unfair Dismissal Basic Award cap: increases to £14,250 from £13,920
•  Statutory Redundancy payment maximum: increases to £14,250 from £13,920
•  The statutory limit on the maximum gross week’s pay (used to calculate many individual statutory rights such as statutory redundancy payments and statutory notice pay): increases to £475 from £464.

The main change which will have the most impact to UK employers is the Shared Parental Leave regime which is likely to increase the administrative burden on employers and particularly impact smaller businesses. It does however, provide more equal rights for fathers, should they wish to take it and may create more flexibility in both the workplace and the home. It remains to be seen how many parents will make use of Shared Parental Leave particularly as, where there is a large salary difference between the parents, the decision to share leave may have to be based on the financial impact of such leave.

This article is courtesy of EACCNY member Ogletree Deakins.