Worker rights | What happened to the 2019 Employment Bill?

What happened to the 2019 Employment Bill?

By Mike Fitzsimmons, Senior HR Consultant, Moorepay

Back in December 2019, the late Queen announced key measures her Parliament would be pursuing in 2020.

What were the measures (known as the Employment Bill) and what happened to them? What are the Private Members’ Bills and which ones do you need to know about? We explain all.

The 2019 Employment Bill

An extensive Employment Bill set out:

  • The right to request a more predictable employment contract

  • A week’s leave for unpaid carers

  • Extended parental leave for neonatal care

  • Extension of redundancy protection to prevent pregnancy and maternity discrimination

  • Making flexible working the default

  • Tips to go to workers in full

  • A single enforcement body

At the time, Boris Johnson described the Queen’s Speech as “the most radical in a generation”. By 2021, however, the employment elements had vanished. Mutterings they would re-emerge “when parliamentary time allowed” came to nothing.

The 2021 – 22 session of Parliament was prorogued with Boris Johnson’s departure. When Parliament is prorogued, virtually all parliamentary business comes to an end. Outstanding Bills fall. Motions to the House lapse. Unanswered questions stay unanswered.

Private Members’ Bills published

Perhaps through utter despair, several MPs sponsored what are known as Private Members Bills – mainly reflecting the ‘vanished’ employment legislation.

Only MPs who are not Government Ministers can sponsor such Bills. Only a minority of Private Members’ Bills become law. Time for debate is very limited. Many fail.

Somewhat surprisingly, the current Government has chosen to support a number of these Private Members’ Bills – even when proposed by opposition Labour, Lib Dem and SNP MPs. The main ones are:

Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010)

This is a Bill to restore 3rd party harassment provisions to the Equality Act (removed under the Cameron Government in 2013). Although focused on sexual harassment, potentially other discriminatory harassment is covered. An employer would have to show that they took ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent their employees being harassed by customers, suppliers etc.

Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill

This Bill would require employers to allow employees to take paid leave for appointments for fertility treatment. Unpaid leave to accompany someone in a ‘qualifying relationship’ to their appointments is also envisaged.

Carer’s Leave Bill

This Bill makes provision for up to a week’s unpaid leave per year for staff with caring responsibilities. Entitlement would be from day one; no minimum period of service. Eligible staff would also be protected from detriment or dismissal.

Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill

The entitlement to make a request would, again, be from day one of employment. Two requests could be made in any year, with responses within two months. The employee wouldn’t be required to propose how to deal with the impact of their request. And the employer must hold a consultation meeting to explore available options before reaching their decision.

No change to the eight business reasons on which an employer can legitimately refuse a request is envisaged. Additional guidance, and possibly secondary legislation, may follow – particularly around the concept of informal flexible working (whatever that may imply).

Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill

This Bill envisages additional paid leave for parents whose babies require specialist care after birth. Up to twelve weeks’ paid leave per parent is envisaged in addition to maternity and paternity leave etc. The Government says it’s putting its “full weight” behind this Bill. Unless amended, the generosity of the paid leave element could create inconsistencies with other statutory payments. Smaller businesses could face affordability issues.

Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill

This Bill is also supported by the Government. Pregnant women and new parents would receive greater protection from redundancy. The key aim is to shield them from workplace discrimination. There would be greater job security during pregnancy and until eighteen months after the birth.

Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill

Since Covid, the increasing move from cash to card and even phone payments has thrown inappropriate practices into sharp relief.

The Bill is again supported by the Government. In future, tips or voluntary service charges cannot be retained by businesses. 100% must go to relevant staff. Tipping policies need to be displayed clearly to staff and customers. A fair, equitable and transparent basis for distribution may take some working out. Thus an accompanying Code of Practice is envisaged.

Private Members’ Bills aren’t necessarily well drafted, and you can end up with ‘flawed’ legislation. They can also be subject to significant amendment at Report Stage in the House of Commons or by the House of Lords. Many run out of time. There is no guarantee that what’s detailed above will get through or remain in their existing form if they do.

Reminder

We have previously reported on the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill and Data Protection and Digital Information Bill. Each could have significant employment implications. They emerged when the Government was at its most unstable. There now appears to be some recognition that either, as originally drafted, could have adverse impact for individual organisations and the economy. There is nothing concrete yet but, apparently, reconsideration is underway in Government circles. Of course, we shall keep Moorepay customers updated during 2023.

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