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Employment

There are a number of issues and risks that employers of women who are pregnant, on maternity leave, or returning to work following maternity or share parental leave need to be aware of.

In last week’s blog we discussed issues of potential sex discrimination when offering enhanced Shared Parental Leave terms to expectant mothers but not to fathers. Another important issue that employers should think about are the particular responsibilities they have towards women who are breastfeeding. Although there is no free-standing right to time off for breast feeding, breastfeeding mothers have a number of legal protections.

The Glasgow Employment Tribunal has this month made a finding of indirect sex discrimination and awarded almost £30,000 to a male employee after his employers refused to pay him the same as his wife during their shared parental leave.

The ‘Shared Parental Leave’ scheme allows employees who are parents to share leave in the first year of their child’s life, or in the first year after a child is placed with them for adoption. Shared parental leave is in addition to rights to maternity, adoption and paternity leave.

The UK government is pressing ahead with its plans to introduce an apprenticeship levy on businesses from April 2017. This follows an announcement in the 2015 summer budget and autumn statement, after the quality of employer training was deemed too low.  

The levy rate will be 0.5% of an employers pay bill, although businesses will receive an annual allowance of £15,000 to offset against any liability.  The following worked example demonstrates how the levy will work.

Increasing numbers of individuals are working in the ‘gig economy’ engaging with business to provide their services on an ad hoc basis. There is an attraction for people seeking to take control of their own careers through choosing their own working hours coupled with the eagerness of business to avoid the perceived burdens associated with a traditional employment relationships.

The tensions and contradictions inherent in the gig economy have recently been driving litigation as well as headlines and have prompted people like the boss of a takeaway delivery service, William Shu, to opine that UK employment law needs updating and that “there are laws drawn up years ago that may be less relevant for today’s economy”.

The law on reasonable adjustments for disabled employees has been around for some and while the statutory test for when the obligation itself is triggered remains complex and technical the concept does import the old fashioned employment law concept of “reasonableness”.

This we might think is susceptible to common sense and predictability. We also have a Statutory Code of Practice on Employment which indicates some of the factors to be taken into account in determining whether a proposed adjustment is reasonable including among others considerations such as whether taking the step would be effective in preventing the disadvantage, practicality, financial and other costs and the type and size of the employer.

These were the words of Theresa May in her first statement as Prime Minister; words which are backed up by a report this week from the Institute for Fiscal Studies on ‘The Gender Wage Gap’, which highlights the significant gulf in salary between men and women.

The report found that hourly wages of female employees are currently about 18% lower than men’s on average. The good news is that this gap appears to be closing, albeit gradually.

A recent Trade Union Council (TUC) report, “Still just a bit of banter?” prepared alongside the Everyday Sexism Project following a survey of around 1,500 women, has identified a continuing serious problem of sexual harassment in UK workplaces.  The researchers found that 52% of women responding report that they have been subject to conduct which could amount to sexual harassment at work.

This figure rises to 63% when the focus is solely on women between the ages of 18-24.  Perhaps even more worrying is the fact that 79% of the women, who indicated they experienced harassment report that they did not tell their employer.

Now that the dust has begun to settle on the outcome of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU there are some interesting indications of a surprising new direction in the employment rights regime. While some had feared that Brexit would lead to a bonfire of UK employment rights - in particular those deriving from EU legislation Theresa May has defined her new premiership as being about making Britain “work for everyone” implicitly acknowledging this that may not have been the case under the previous Cameron administration.

Chambers UK 2018

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