OK, so it won’t be as explosive as the fifth of November or as the legislative changes which have come into force over the last 15 months, but 1 October 2014 will see a few more new employment laws. In this bulletin, we’ll look at two of them.
First off, we have the new right to unpaid time off to accompany a pregnant woman to two antenatal appointments, up to a maximum of 6½ hours for each appointment. This right is available to employees and some agency workers who are either the partner of the pregnant mother or the expected child’s father, or are another specified participant involved in assisted reproduction or surrogacy arrangements. These individuals will be protected from detriment and dismissal as a result of exercising their new rights.
Secondly, there are some changes for employers of members of the Reserve Forces (such as the Territorial Army). The ongoing Army 2020 programme is aimed at reducing costs over the next few years. The plan is for the number of regular soldiers to come down from 102,000 to 82,500 and for the number of reservists to be increased from 19,000 to 30,000 by 2019. So far, it has been reported that the numbers of soldiers made redundant have not been matched by the required increase in the number of reservists. This has been partially due to the redundancy exercise proceeding faster than expected and more people leaving the Reserve Forces than joining.
As part of its strategy to increase recruitment to the Reserve Forces, the Government has introduced two specific provisions to enhance reservists’ rights and reduce the financial burdens on their employers.
As of 1 October 2014, employees who are dismissed after this date will not be required to have the usual two-year qualifying period for claiming unfair dismissal where they allege that their dismissal was connected with their membership of the Reserve Forces. However, this is not such a benefit as you might think. Reservists must still prove that it was unfair to dismiss them because of their absence as they will not be treated as automatically unfairly dismissed. This additional right is also unlikely to provide them with a better option than they already have.
At present, former employers of reservists are already obliged to re-instate any reservist who was employed by them to the job (and on the same terms) which they previously held (within six months after the end of their military service). If this is not practicable, the reservist must be offered re-employment on as similar terms and conditions as possible. If an employer fails to do so, the reservist may bring a claim to the Reinstatement Committee (part of the Employment Tribunal Service) which could order their re-instatement. As there are no issue or hearing fees for such claims, this route would be more cost-effective than bringing an unfair dismissal claim.
Finally, small and medium-sized employers will now be able to claim £500 per month (prorated for part-months and part-time employees working less than 35 hours per week) from the Ministry of Defence during periods when a reservist employee is absent on military service. This is in addition to being able to claim up to £110 per day for additional salary costs incurred in covering for the reservist.
Fireworks, bombshells or damp squibs. As always, only time will tell whether these new rights will really make a difference.