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Understanding the new employment laws

Keeping up with the latest employment legislation can be a struggle... | Picture: iStockKeeping up with the latest employment legislation is challenging for the largest firms. But if you are a small business without a human resources department it can be even harder.

Here is a round-up of the new employment laws most likely to affect your business that came into force in October this year.

Employment Equality Age Regulations 2006

These rules prohibiting age discrimination are arguably the most far-reaching to have been introduced this year. This new law requires employers to review their policies and decision-making processes on issues such as recruitment, promotion, training, reward and retirement.

Practices such as application forms asking for an applicant’s date of birth and advertising a job requesting “young” or “mature” candidates are now against the law.

Abbey Protection Group solicitor Claire Birkinshaw said that employers need to shift the emphasis from age-specific requirements to those that emphasise job specifications.

“Focus on the breadth of experience or skills needed and the salary band, rather than specifying minimum or maximum ages or years of experience,” she said.

Some employers need to change the way they calculate pay and benefits if they have previously been linked to age. Training and promotion opportunities should be provided to all staff regardless of age. It is also now illegal to force staff to retire before the age of 65. 

The regulations also outlaw discrimination by way of harassment or victimisation. This could mean that ageist comments or joke birthday cards given to staff could be in danger of flouting the rules.

Turner Parkinson employment law partner Sarah Turner said: “It might seem like political correctness gone mad, but companies are responsible for any act of harassment committed by employees in the course of their employment. Those that overlook even the smallest incident of age discrimination run a risk of ending up in court.”

Further information on the act from opsi.gov.uk

Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Adoption Pay Regulations 2006 and The Statutory Maternity Pay and Social Security (Maternity Allowance) Regulations 2006

The regulations extend the period of statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance for women whose expected week of childbirth  starts on or after 1 April 2007.

Cobbetts head of employment law Judith Watson believes the most notable feature of the regulations is the introduction of “keeping-in-touch” days.

“This is where an employee on maternity or adoption leave can agree with their employer to work for up to 10 days during their statutory maternity leave, without that work bringing the maternity leave – or pay – to an end.  This is great news for small businesses, as employers won’t lose the benefit of key talent during extended periods of absence,” she said.

In addition, all pregnant employees who qualify for ordinary maternity leave will automatically receive extra maternity leave, regardless of how long they have worked for their employer.  

The new rules also extend the maximum period of maternity and adoption pay from six to nine months and the right to request flexible working to carers of adults and not just those with responsibility for children.

Further information on the paternity pay regulations from opsi.gov.uk
Further information on the maternity pay regulations from opsi.gov.uk

National Minimum Wage

Finally, if you pay some staff the National Minimum Wage, you should know by now to dig a bit deeper on pay day.

Amendments made in October to the National Minimum Wage Regulations 1999 mean that the adult rate has risen from £5.05 to £5.35 an hour and the development and youth rate has increased from £4.25 to £4.45 an hour, while the rate for workers aged 16 and 17 increased from £3 to £3.30 an hour. 

These are the most notable changes to employment legislation that could affect smaller business owners.
 
However, employment legislation is updated in April and October each year, so it is important for all employers to keep an eye on the changes if they want to stay on the right side of the law.

Further information on the minumum wage from hmrc.gov.uk

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