Avoid April Showers

By: Melanie Hatton

Date: 24 March 2010

Your business may have HR policies and procedures in place already; but are they current and relevant? Each April brings with it annual legislative changes which could result in your business missing a trick if you’re not prepared for them. 

Here are the five changes that your business needs to prepare for now: 

1. Allowances

From 4 April 2010 allowances for statutory maternity pay, paternity, adoption pay and maternity pay are changing from £123.06 to £124.88 per week. Allowances for statutory sick pay of £79.15 per week remain unchanged this year. 

The Government has announced that although it is committed to the principle, it will not go ahead with the planned extension of statutory maternity pay from 39 to 52 weeks this April. 

2. Fit Note Scheme

From 6 April 2010, as an employer you will no longer be presented with the traditional GP sick note setting out the reason for an employee’s absence. Instead, GPs will produce “fit notes” which will focus on the work that an ill person is able to do, rather than what they are unable to do. Again, Business Link has a helpful section of information for employers on the fit note scheme and an example fit note template is available here

There are differing opinions on whether the new system will be more or less beneficial to employers; we will have to see how it plays out. For the time being, as an employer, you will need to acquaint yourself with the new fit note form, know how to respond to it, and adjust your absence management procedures to ensure that any adjustments recommended by a GP in a fit note are considered. You should also maintain a record of the reasons for any non-implementation of recommendations. 

3. Right to Train

On 6 April 2010 the new Employee Study and Training Regulations come into force and give a new right for employees to request time off from work for training or study. Initially, this right will only affect employers who have over 250 employees, but by 2011, the right will extend to all employers. Essentially, the regulations set out how an employer should respond to such requests.

My advice would be to ensure your company has a policy to reflect this new right which should include how and to whom in the company the request should be made, who will consider the request and in what timeframe. I recommend maintaining a record of requests together with the reasoning behind any approvals or rejections in order to ensure consistency of process, and to demonstrate equality and fairness in your workplace.

For more information, Business Link provides an overview of the detail which you need. 

4. Paternity Leave

New laws mean babies due next spring may see more of both parents. Rules that come in on 6 April this year, but apply to families with babies due from 3 April 2011, allow dads who satisfy certain conditions up to six months’ paternity leave – provided the mother has returned to work. 

The idea is to give families more choice as to how they balance work and childcare; paternity leave entitlement currently stands at just two weeks. The Government is expected to issue guidance before April 2011 as to how employers can best manage and administer these new regulations, so you do have some breathing space.

However, now is the time to take stock of your company’s current paternity leave policy and amend accordingly, consider whether you are willing to introduce additional flexibility and enhanced rights into your workplace if it is a means for you of attracting and retaining the right employees, review your existing structure and ensure managers are prepared for the new entitlement to take effect. 

Don’t forget to also update your existing maternity leave policy to reflect the mother’s ability to share leave with the father. 

5. Equality

On the horizon, but awaiting Royal Assent at the time of writing, is the Equality Bill. Royal Assent for this Bill is expected in April 2010, and the Act will then be due to take effect in October 2010. There is some discussion as to whether the impending general election will disrupt the Bill’s timetable, but there seems to be cross-party support for it and at this stage there is no indication that the Bill’s progress through Parliament is being delayed. 

The purpose behind the Bill is to “modernise and streamline discrimination legislation” and “make Britain stronger, fairer and more equal”. As such, it’s a biggie and it will have an impact on your business. The scope of the Bill is very broad, and this post will not set out the detail here. 

My immediate advice is that, if you haven’t already, you need to get up to speed with the Bill. As an initial introduction to this mammoth piece of legislation, the Government Equalities Office has a very helpful set of resources, links and bullet-point updates which are easy to digest. Again, with this Bill, there is some breathing space prior to its introduction, but not much, so I’d strongly recommend that you start to conduct an equality audit across the range of your HR policies to ensure compliance with the Act when it comes into force.

6. Annual Healthcheck

Alongside all the above, changes in your business over the past year and expectations of your staff in the future prompt the need for an annual review of your policies; so I always recommend an annual healthcheck of policies, processes and standard employment contracts. 

The first quarter of every year is a perfect opportunity to review HR policies and practices in your business. So, to avoid showers this April, spring-clean your HR policies now.

Law Donut

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