New year, new employment laws: the agenda for 2015

Whilst every year brings with it employment law changes, it is fair to say that the past 18 months has seen some of the most significant changes to employment legislation over the course of the last decade.

By Karen Credie, KMCHR.

True to form, 2015 is set to deliver further significant changes to the way employers must deal with staff – in particular in relation to childcare.

Below we have outlined some of the most significant employment law developments for this year. For help or advice in relation to any of the below, please get in touch with us.

Shared parental leave

This is the headline employment law reform this year and one that has brought much discussion. The premise of the change is to give parents greater flexibility in terms of how they manage childcare in the first year following birth. Although actually coming into force at the end of 2014, the new rules will apply to babies due on or after 5th April 2015. Shared parental leave (SPL) will effectively allow a mother to ‘share’ her maternity leave with the child’s other parent for up to a total of 12 months.

The time off can be divided in any way parents choose following the mandatory 2 weeks of leave the mother must take after the child’s birth. The time off can overlap should the parents choose – so both get 6 months off together with the baby. Alternatively, the time can be split between the parents to cover a full year, or even taken in discontinuous blocks to allow parents to return to work for certain key projects and then go on leave again.

A recent survey by Linklaters suggests that interest in SPL could be significantly higher than government estimates. If this is the case, we may also see more fathers submitting requests for flexible working following a period of SPL.

Many couples work together for the same employer and they may choose to take leave concurrently. Unlike requests for flexible working, employers do not have the right to refuse such a request if the employee applies for a period of continuous leave, not discontinuous blocks.

It should be noted that the SPL rules will also apply to parents of adopted children.

Adoption leave and pay

2015 will see the rights for parents of adopted children brought more into line with those of other parents. The Children and Families Act 2014 sees the 26 week qualifying period being scrapped for adoptive parents, also introducing the same level of pay for adoption that is allowed for maternity (ie. 90% of average weekly earning for the first six weeks).

Furthermore, new rights to attend adoption appointments will be introduced – the primary adopter will be allowed paid time off for up to five appointments and the secondary adopter will be able to take up to two unpaid absences for pre-adoption contact visits.

The primary adopter of a child born to parents through a surrogacy arrangement will be entitled to take adoption leave and pay provided they have applied for a ‘parental order’. They will also be able to end their adoption leave early and move onto shared parental leave.

Unpaid parental leave changes

From 5th April, parents with children up to the age of 18 will eligible to take unpaid leave to care for their children. Currently, this is only available if the child is under the age of five, or 18 if disabled. The amount of unpaid leave parents will be entitled to will be capped at 18 weeks over the course of 18 years. Unpaid Parental Leave should not be confused with Shared Parental Leave.

Fit for Work Service to be introduced

A delayed government scheme aimed at cutting extended periods of sickness absence is expected to be fully operational by the end of May 2015. The Fit for Work scheme will provide employees with an occupational health assessment when they have been absent, or are expected to be absent, for a period of 4 weeks or more. Along with assessing, supporting and providing a return to work plan for those who require the service, Fit for Work will also be available as a general occupational health advice resource for employees, employers and general practitioners.

Also watch out for…

Increases to statutory maternity pay, ordinary statutory paternity pay, statutory adoption pay and statutory sick pay are expected in April. Depending on the findings of the LPC (Low Pay Commission), changes to the National Minimum Wage may come into force on 15th October 2015.

As ever, we will keep you up to date on the KMC HR blog with any key employment law updates that might affect you and your business. For advice or guidance in relation to any employment or HR matter, please contact us.