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How the workplace will change in 2013

FOCUS: What changes can workers expect from their employers in the coming year? Employment law expert Edward Goodwyn of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, looks ahead to some significant changes. 04 Jan 2013

You'll be offered shares

Under a scheme nicknamed "shares for rights", employees will be offered the chance to adopt an equity-linked employment contract, which will give them employee shareholder status, a third form of employment status.

In exchange for giving up certain employment rights such as redundancy pay; unfair dismissal claims, or time off for training, employees will become owners of a stake in the business they work for by being given shares in the employer company worth a minimum of £2,000. Any profit on those shares will be exempt from capital gains tax (CGT) when the shares are sold. 

The Government's aim is to create a generation of John Lewis-style businesses. Whether that happens in 2013 remains to be seen, but first steps seem likely.  The plan is to allow SMEs and start-up companies the option of avoiding some employment related costs by giving employees a stake in the business.

Fathers may be off work for longer

In March 2013 the Government will introduce new Parental Leave Regulations which increase the amount of unpaid parental leave that can be taken per child from 13 to 18 weeks. Unpaid parental leave will continue to be limited to a maximum of four weeks per year.

As announced in the Queen's Speech in 2012, plans are also afoot to create a more flexible shared system of parental leave to enable both parents to share parenting responsibilities and balance work and family commitments.

While research carried out by Pinsent Masons earlier this year demonstrated that the number of men taking statutory paternity leave has increased by 14% in recent years, it is still the case that only a small fraction of those entitled to it use it. It is anticipated that the proposals will be implemented by 2015. Again, businesses may seek to pre-empt legislation by implementing new policies ahead of time.

You might see less of other colleagues

The right to request flexible working has previously been restricted to those with children and caring responsibilities, but this is to be extended to all employees with 26 weeks' continuous employment, with more details known in 2013.

The current statutory procedure for considering requests will be replaced with a new duty on employers to act reasonably, within a reasonable time. It is anticipated that this will be implemented in 2014, but businesses may seek to pre-empt the legislation by widening their approach to flexible working and change their policies and procedures in 2013.

You will have to pay fees if you want to make a tribunal claim

The Government has confirmed that fees will be introduced in the Employment Tribunal in the summer of 2013. It is hoped that these fees will stop unmeritorious claims being presented.  A claimant will be required to pay a fee in order to issue their claim and a further hearing fee to proceed to a full tribunal hearing. The amount of the fee will depend on the type of claim being brought.

More straight forward and lower vale claims known as "Level One" claims will require you to pay £160 to issue a claim and £230 to proceed to a hearing. More complex claims such as including unfair dismissal, discrimination, equal pay and whistleblowing claims with require you to pay £250 to issue your claim and £950 to proceed to a hearing.

Change at the top?

Female representation in Europe's boardrooms is likely to remain high on the political agenda in 2013 and may ultimately result in more female leadership in your business.

An anticipated EU vote on the introduction of a Europe-wide quota for women on company boards was postponed in November, following opposition from several EU countries including the UK. It was argued that voluntary targets and increased efforts to change attitudes will be more effective in the long run. This was supported by a House of Lords report into the topic which suggested that quotas should be considered "as a last resort".  

The European Commission has now signalled that it will not press ahead with the mandatory 40% quota. A proposed directive instead calls for a "40% objective" in non-executive board member positions in publicly listed companies by 2020.

Companies in which women make up less than 40% of the board will be required to favour the under represented sex when making appointments where all other qualifications are equal. Public undertakings, over which public authorities exercise a dominant influence, will be required to meet the same target by 2018. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and companies which are not listed on a stock exchange, are exempt from the proposals, although businesses will be able to set themselves individual, self-regulatory targets as a complementary measure to the main proposal.

You'll get a pension

From 1 January 2013, businesses with 30,000 to 49,000 employees will be expected to automatically enrol their staff into a pension scheme. Similar deadlines will apply throughout 2013 for most other large businesses.

The Pensions Regulator has been inundated with thousands of letters and calls from businesses and individuals confused about auto-enrolment over the past six months, with the regulator having received more than 5,000 enquiries in the past five months.

Staff do have the ability to opt out, but the Government's desire to oblige people to set aside money for retirement is clear.

You'll get a social media policy

Few will forget the infamous Kenneth Cole tweet during the Arab Spring: "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumour is they heard our Spring Collection is available".

Many ill-advised tweets have followed, with defamation, harassment, and misrepresentation all major legal risks.

Ill-considered tweets can cause your employer serious reputational damage in an instant. If your business does not already have a social media policy, therefore, it soon will.

As a minimum, this will comprise some simple dos and don'ts, but it could also cover trickier issues such as who owns your followers if you tweet on behalf of the company and decide to leave. 

Timetable of key legislative changes

February 1, 2013
Legislation: Employment Rights (Increase of Limits) Order 2012
Impact: Increases tribunal compensation limits

March 2013
Legislation: Revised Parental Leave Directive
Impact: Employees will be entitled to take a total of 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave, up from 13 weeks previously.

April 2013
Legislation: Growth and Infrastructure Bill
Impact: Introduces the concept of employee shareholder status

Legislation: Children and Families Bill
Impact: Sets out new system of flexible parental leave and flexible working

Summer 2013
Legislation: Tribunal fees
Impact: Fees will be introduced into the employment tribunal

Expected 2013
Legislation: Employment Tribunals Rules of Procedure
Impact: Comes into force

Expected 2013
Legislation: Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill
Impact: Introduces the following changes:

  • Mandatory pre-claim Acas conciliation.
  • Enhanced shareholder rights regarding directors' remuneration.
  • Repeal of the third party harassment and the discrimination questionnaire provisions in the Equality Act 2010, and reform the EHRC.
  • Changes to employment tribunal procedure and the orders a tribunal can make.
  • EAT judges to sit alone.
  • Pre-termination negotiations will be inadmissible in unfair dismissal proceedings.
  • Introducing a public interest requirement to whistleblowing disclosures.

Expected 2013
Legislation: Government’s response to the Ending the Employment Relationship consultation
Impact: Covers the use of settlement agreements, including proposals for the use of a model agreement, standard letters and a new Acas Code of Practice on settlements.

Expected 2013
Legislation: Government’s response to Modern Workplaces consultation
Impact: Covers annual leave

Edward Goodwyn is an employment law expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com

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