Business Surgery: New year heralds changes to jobs laws

Martin Bloom of Hegarty Solicitors. Photo supplied
Martin Bloom of Hegarty Solicitors. Photo supplied
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The New Year is the ideal time to look at some very important recent changes in employment law.

The most significant news from 2014 is the reduction in the number of Employment Tribunal Claims – which has dropped by 61 per cent from July to September 2014 compared with the same period in 2013.

This is primarily as a result of the introduction of fees payable by most people bringing claims and the requirement for most claims to first go through a process of compulsory early conciliation with ACAS.

The issue of fees is somewhat of a political football at the moment, particularly as we approach a General Election.

Unison failed in its challenge to the High Court against the introduction of Tribunal fees. The Government has responded by stating it is committed to a review of fees, although no date for that review has been set.

Labour says it will make Employment Tribunals free of change if it wins the election. What’s clear is that more and more people are being “priced out of justice” at Employment Tribunals.

Whilst there are many differing views as to the merits or otherwise of zero hours contracts, legislation will introduce a ban on exclusivity clauses within those contracts.

The proposed legislation does not address wider concerns about the unregulated use of zero hours contracts which leaves workers in insecure employment for indefinite periods not knowing whether they have an income from week to week. The proposed new measures also fail to deal with the issue of any lack of transparency regarding the terms, conditions and consequences of many such contracts.

Following the recent court cases involving holiday pay claims, the Government has introduced the Deduction from Wages (Limitation) Regulations 2014.

These Regulations apply to any Tribunal Claim presented on or after 1 July 2015. They limit any unlawful deduction claims to a period of two years before the date when the Tribunal Claim is lodged.

An area to consider this year will be Disability Discrimination Claims arising from employees who may fall within the medical definition of “obese”.

The European Court decided in December last year that obesity may fall within the definition of disability.

It will be interesting to see how employers react to the new law, e.g. in respect of their legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments for obese employees.

Whilst there is a degree of uncertainty as to how employment law will progress this year, what we can be certain of is that it’s going to be a challenging year for employees, employers and their legal advisers.