With preparations for Christmas festivities in full swing, and the new year nearly here, it’s time to look at some of the legal changes in store for employers in 2015.

Family friendly changes
It can’t have escaped many employers’ notice that there is a new family friendly right to take shared parental leave. The regulations governing such leave came into force on 1 December 2014 but apply to eligible parents whose children are due to be born or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015.

The idea is that parents will be able to share leave that historically only a mother could take as maternity leave or a primary adopter as adoption leave. Eligible parents will be able to take up to 50 weeks of shared parental leave and 37 weeks of shared parental pay, provided that the leave is taken within 52 weeks of the birth or placement. The leave can be stopped and started, taken by both parents (if eligible) either at the same time or staggered between them.

The mechanics of the new regime are complex and employers would be well advised to familiarise themselves with the regulations sooner rather than later.

Changes are also planned for adoption leave to bring it in line with statutory maternity leave. So the 26 weeks’ service required before employees can take adoption leave will be removed from 5 April 2015 and the first six weeks of statutory adoption pay will be at 90 per cent of average weekly earnings rather than at the statutory rate if this is lower. Primary adopters will also have the right to paid time off to attend adoption appointments to meet the child they intend to adopt.

The current right to take 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave before a child’s fifth birthday is also to be extended from 5 April 2015, so that leave can be taken up to the child’s eighteenth birthday.

Holiday pay
The holiday pay saga is set to continue well into 2015. The much reported case of Bear Scotland v Fulton might have answered some questions regarding how holiday pay should be calculated, but many issues are still up in the air, in particular what reference period should be used and what other types of payments should be included. Some clarification may come from the Leicester employment tribunal when it reconvenes in February to hear the case of Lock v British Gas, which is concerned with whether commission payments should be included in holiday pay calculations.

Collective consultation
The case of USDAW v Ethel Austin changed the law when the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the words “at one establishment” should be disregarded when deciding whether the obligation to collectively consult in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 is triggered. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills appealed the decision, and the Court of Appeal in turn referred the matter to the European Court which heard the case on 20 November. The European Court’s Advocate General is due to publish a legal opinion on the case on 5 February 2015, which may influence the final decision later in the year.

Zero hours contracts
These contracts received a lot of press in 2013 and this year the government announced plans to prohibit employers from restricting those working under them from working for other businesses. The government also launched a consultation on the potential loopholes employers may use to try and avoid the proposed exclusivity ban. This consultation closed on 3 November and we are waiting for the governments’ response. The Labour party has announced that should it gain power in the May election, it will introduce new laws to protect zero hours workers.

The government plans to simplify the regulation of apprenticeships (see Deregulation Bill 2014-15, schedule 1) and this year has introduced the concept of an approved English version replacing the existing agreements under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (Wales will continue with the current arrangements). More details are to be set out in separate regulation in due course, and we don’t know exactly what will be involved yet or how different arrangements will be from what is currently required. Whether the proposals survive the May election remains to be seen.

Antonia Blackwell is a senior associate at Shoosmiths


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