Kier Starmer has moved into No10 and formed his Government following Labour’s successful election result. In its campaign, the new Government made it clear that its “New Deal for Working People” would be a central part of its future plans, suggesting new employment legislation would be presented within 100 days……that takes us to 25 October 2024!

Here are the headlines of the most significant proposed changes that employers should be aware of;

Day 1 Rights:

The 2-year service requirement before employees can claim Unfair Dismissal will be removed. The requirement of qualifying service has always been part of the law of unfair dismissal since it was introduced with the Industrial Relations Act 1971. The qualifying threshold has been varied over the years and has been as low as six months but never less than six months as per the current proposal.

The Government have also committed to removing minimum service requirements and granting all workers with the right to parental leave and sick pay from day 1 of employment.

One thing is for sure, the expansion of unfair dismissal rights is likely to lead to more employment tribunal claims however, it will be interesting to see how the legal system copes with an increased workload

Probationary Periods and Hiring Going Forwards:

The Government has commented that there is a requirement for “probationary periods with fair and transparent rules and processes”. This may mean bringing in a maximum length for probationary periods and prescriptive procedures to adhere to when dismissing employees in their probationary periods including the prohibition of dismissing employees without justifiable cause.

What does this mean?

Employers will need to look at their current policies and processes and upgrade them to ensure compliance. There will need to be more formal monitoring and feedback sessions during an employee’s probationary period, and these should be properly documented. Managers will need to be comfortable with discussing issues of underperformance and conduct and not brush over them to ensure any later decision to dismiss can be justified.

We will most probably also see more stringent and protracted recruitment processes, including various tests, to ensure that the right candidate is hired in the first instance.

The Right to Disconnect:

Labour have suggested that the proposed Right to Disconnect or “right to switch off” would provide workers with the right to disconnect from work outside of working hours and not be contacted by their employer.

It is understood that the Government has said that employers and workers will have the opportunity to agree tailored workplace policies or contractual terms. This suggest that the right would not be absolute. Most probably a Code of Practice will be published in the coming months at which point we will know more.

Zero hours contracts:

In their manifesto, Labour suggested it would ban zero hour contracts however they now appear to have suggested a new and more reserved introduction on new rules designed to prevent the abuse of zero hours contracts.

Such abuse and exploitation may occur when an employee is obliged to be available for any work offered but the employer does not guarantee any work.

A new law is planned to set out the minimum standards expected. There would be a new right to a contract that mirrors hours that are regularly worked (calculated against a 12-week reference period).

Employers will need to review their use of zero-hour contracts to ensure that they comply with the new rules.

Some other changes include the following:

Flexible Working: Flexible working will become the default from day one. Currently, employees only have the right to request it, and not a right to receive it.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP): The Lower Earnings Limit (LEL) will be removed to extend SSP to the lowest earners, and the payment amount may be increased.

National Minimum Wage: A single rate for all adults. This will undoubtedly increase costs for businesses and may dampen hiring appetites, particularly for smaller firms who are already feeling the crunch post covid and the NMW increase that came in in April 2024.

Third-Party Harassment: Employers will be liable for any harassment against their employees  by third parties.

Workplace Sexual Harassment: Employers will be required to create and maintain workplaces free from sexual harassment and take all reasonable steps to prevent it.

Statutory Bereavement Leave: New entitlements for employees.

Employment status: Reform of employment status to create a single status of ‘worker’ for anyone who is not genuinely self-employed

Self-Employed: The Government intends to “support and champion” the self-employed, entitling them to a written contract, taking action to tackle late payments and ensuring they are covered by workplace health and safety.

Our thoughts

These proposed changes are merely the tip of the iceberg!

The impact of the legal changes planned by Labour will be significant. Adopting these changes will necessitate drafting new employment contracts, revising HR policies and procedures, and training managers on practical implementation. There is going to be a huge shake up of practices that have become second nature.

With numerous proposed changes, HR’s role will be more crucial than ever in guiding the business through employee rights and minimising the risk of errors, legal challenge and reputational damage.

While we await the full details and dates, there are proactive steps SMEs can take:

Engage with an HR Consultant: You will need expert help to ensure legal compliance and peace of mind.

Review HR Policies: Make sure your probationary policies are clear and structured, so employees understand what to expect during this period. Train managers so they know the process like the back of the hand and make sure the probationary reviews take place and minutes are taken.

Start training managers and employees: Proactively address the heightened expectations to prevent workplace sexual harassment. Begin raising awareness now, and you’ll be better positioned for compliance.

Don’t wait until the last minute. Secure bespoke HR support to navigate these changes smoothly—it’s going to be a complex journey!