As 2018 draws to a close, it’s time to take a look at HR and employment law trends and changes that could be on the horizon in 2019.
Even though there’s only a few months until the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019, there’s still a lot of uncertainty regarding the details of proposed changes to UK immigration law. As a result, we still don’t know what effect there will be on freedom of movement.
Employers should be prepared to change their recruitment processes should EU workers end up taking on the same status as other foreign nationals. Nationals of the Irish Republic will continue to have the right to work due to pre-existing bilateral arrangements.
Workers from EU countries currently living in the UK will be able to apply for settled status in 2019, allowing them to remain indefinitely in the UK following the end of the Brexit transition period in 2021, and with that the right to work in the UK will continue to apply.
Applicants must be able to prove they have been living in the UK for 5 years, but those who do not meet this requirement can apply for temporary status until they have accrued enough residency to be granted settled status.
For ‘Tier 2’ migrants from outside the EEA, the cap on the number of migrants admitted (in certain skilled jobs) may be lifted and the system may be extended to EEA nationals. There is talk of a minimum annual salary of £30,000 for overseas workers.
However, this is very much an outline, but there are strong indications of a move towards a more ‘unified’ immigration and work permit system with a focus on attracting the more highly-skilled.
It is not yet clear how UK firms posting staff within the EU will be affected either.
National Minimum Wage rates
As announced in the 2018 Budget, the National Living Wage is due to increase to £8.21 per hour from 1 April 2019.
Other National Minimum Wage rates are also due to increase, with hourly rates rising to £7.70 for workers aged at least 21 but under 25, to £6.15 for workers aged at least 18 but under 21, and to £4.35 for workers aged under 18 who are no longer of compulsory school age. The hourly apprentice rate will also increase to £3.90.
The subject of mental health has been big news in 2018, with many employers and campaigners alike aiming to reduce the stigma attached to many common workplace problems such as stress and anxiety.
The link between workplace productivity and the number of sick days taken as a result of mental health-related issues is also now more recognised than ever before.
Employee wellbeing should continue to be a priority in 2019, with organisations that haven’t yet done so implementing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). EAPs help employees with mental health problems by offering confidential support services, such as counselling, legal and financial advice.
The Good Work Plan
The government published the ‘Good Work Plan’ on 17 December 2018, just in time for the New Year. The plan should provide clarity when it comes to determining whether someone is a worker or an employee, so that businesses are unable to avoid their responsibilities by misclassifying staff. The plan will also involve:
Providing workers with an entitlement to a statement of particulars
Ban employers from making deductions from staff tips
Change the rules on continuity of employment, so that a break of up to four weeks between contracts will not interrupt continuity (it’s currently one week in most circumstances)
Set out the information agency workers must be given so they can make an informed choice about the work they accept
The government is also proposing a right for workers on ‘zero hour’ contracts to have a right to request more predictable hours. This is likely to be based on current models for requesting flexible working
Holiday pay may be calculated on the basis of a 52-week average (or as close as possible) rather than the 12-week average currently used, a system that throws up some anomalies for term-time workers in education.
In addition, the government has committed to reforming employment legislation enforcement. The proposed new laws will:
Increase the maximum penalty that Employment Tribunals can impose from £5,000 to £20,000 if employers are found to have demonstrated “malice, spite or gross oversight”
Create an obligation on Employment Tribunals to consider sanctions where employers have lost a previous case on broadly comparable facts
Extend enforcement on behalf of vulnerable workers to underpayment of holiday pay
Increase enforcement protections for agency workers where they have pay withheld or unclear deductions made by an umbrella company.
No date has been announced yet, but employers should be aware of the upcoming changes.
Gender Pay Gap
Gender Pay Gap reporting moves into its second year, as employers with 250 or more employees on the “snapshot date” (31 March in the public sector and 5 April in the private and voluntary sectors) must report their gender pay gap annually within 12 months of that date.
That means that the deadlines for the next reports fall on 30 March or 4 April 2019. With increased scrutiny on issues such as discrimination, employers should be aiming to show that their gap is narrowing from year to year or be able to give a good reason for an increase.
Changes to payslips
As of April 2019, the right to an itemised pay statement will be extended to workers as well as employees.
What needs to be shown on the pay statement will also change. Currently, payslips must include the gross amount of wages or salary, the amounts of any variable elements and any relevant fixed deductions and the purpose for that deduction, and the net amount of wages.
However, employers will now need to state the number of hours for which they are paying the employee in cases where an employee’s wages vary according to how much they have worked.