Feb 2019 – Protection for Pregnant Employees / Snow Stops Work
Employment Update for Small Businesses
This month we report on a new proposal by the Government to extend protections for pregnant employees, as well as those who take adoption leave and other types of parental leave. Also, with the recent spell of cold, snowy weather, we have a reminder on the rules regarding time off for staff who can’t make it into work.
Finally, we have the new rates for the National Minimum Wage and National Living Age which take effect from 1st April 2019.
Please contact me if you would like to find out a bit more about any of the subjects raised in this update or if you need any help or advice.
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Consultation on further protections for pregnant workers
Currently, the law states that a women who is on maternity leave and is facing redundancy, must be offered a suitable alternative position by their employer if one is available, ahead of any other employees who are facing redundancy. This is often described as positive discrimination, as the pregnant women effectively has an advantage over others due to her pregnancy; it is the only form of positive discrimination permitted in law.
The Government has now launched a consultation to consider extending this protection to women who have informed their employer they are pregnant but have not yet started maternity leave, and to women who have returned from maternity leave in the previous 6 months.
The consultation also considers whether to extend this protection to those on adoption leave, shared parental leave and standard parental leave, and for a period after their return to work. Consideration is also being given to a range of other scenarios – such as when someone takes holiday after a period of family leave, or if they take parental leave after a period of maternity or adoption leave, and how the protection would apply in those cases.
The starting point for this consultation is some recent research showing that pregnant women often feel that they are forced out of work, and the Government’s aim to give them greater protection against discrimination. In reality, of course, it is not uncommon for an employer to manage without an employee whilst they are on maternity leave, dividing up their work amongst others and changing processes to cope, only to find that this works better than the previous arrangement. So that can cause real difficulties when the employee is due to return to work. This new proposal will not get around that issue, as there is unlikely to be a suitable alternative role when the employee’s own position no longer exists. So extreme care will need to be taken when making someone redundant in these circumstances.
Please contact us if you need any guidance on this matter.
Staff Absent due to Bad Weather
What are your obligations to staff who can’t make it into work?
Unless your contract of employment states otherwise, you do not have to pay staff who are unable to make it into work because of bad weather. However, if you have to close your business due to bad weather and, therefore, cannot provide your staff with work, you may have to pay them.
Of course, if employees do not come to work when the Met Office has officially warned against travelling, it puts employers in a difficult position. You don’t want to be seen to be pressurising employees into putting themselves at risk.
An added complication is when schools close. Employees have the statutory right to time off work (unpaid) in this situation to look after their children. If you decide to pay employees who are unable to come into work due to the snow, but not to pay those who take time off because their children can’t go to school you could find yourself facing a discrimination claim.
If you close the place of work for whatever reason and are unable to provide work on days when staff are contracted to work, you will have to pay them as normal unless you have a contractual right to temporarily lay-off staff without pay in this situation. Even if you did have this contractual right, you may still have to pay staff a small amount of statutory Guarantee Pay.
Most employers will find a workaround in these circumstances which may be to allow some home-working, to let staff use their holiday entitlement, or to have paid time off and make the time up later on. However, for larger employers or those who find bad weather particularly difficult to manage, it may be best to formulate a policy to cover this issue.
If you would like help with such a policy or would like to discuss this issue further, please contact us.
National Minimum and Living Wage Rates
The current National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage rates are increasing from 1st April 2019 as follows:
From £7.83 to £8.21 per hour for workers aged 25 and over
From £7.38 to £7.70 per hour for workers aged 21 to 24
From £5.90 to £6.15 per hour for workers aged 18 to 20
From £4.20 to £4.35 per hour for workers aged 16 and 17
From £3.70 to £3.90 per hour for apprentices under 19 and those over 19 in their first year*
*N.B. Apprentices over 19 and who have completed at least one year are entitled to the appropriate rate for their age.