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New employment laws coming into effect in April

Posted: 31/03/10 by Howes Percival

A number of new employment laws come into force in April, including the new fit note regime and additional paternity leave. Employers are advised to ensure that they and their staff at management level are aware of the new laws and make any necessary changes to policies and procedures.

New Right to Request Time off to Train
From 6 April 2010 employees working in a business with 250 or more staff will be entitled to request time off work to train or study. The right will be extended to all employees (regardless of the size of their employers business) on 6 April 2011.

Only employees who have been continuously employed for 26 weeks have the right to make a request and the training must improve the employee’s effectiveness at work and the performance of their employer’s business. The procedure for dealing with the request mirrors the existing one for flexible working requests. Employers are not obliged to pay for the training or the employee’s salary during their time off.

Fit Notes
On 6 April 2010 the current system of sick notes will be replaced with fit notes. Fit notes give doctors two options:

1.   Not fit for work.
2.   May be fit for work taking account of the following advice.

If a doctor selects the second option they can suggest adjustments to the employee’s duties, hours or work place to enable the employee to return to work. Although the doctor’s recommendations are not legally binding, they are designed to prompt a discussion between employer and employee as to what changes can be made to enable the employee to return to work.

Employers should ensure that those responsible for the administration of statutory sick pay are aware of the new fit notes and have a system in place so that line managers meet with employees to discuss any adjustments suggested by their doctor.

Additional Paternity Leave
Although Additional Paternity Leave (APL) will come into force on 6 April 2010, it only applies to fathers of babies due on or after 3rd April 2011.  Employees must have been continuously employed for 26 weeks before the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth (or date notified of being matched with an adoptive child) to be eligible for APL and it cannot be taken until the mother has returned to work and the child is 20 weeks old.

Employees have to give 8 weeks’ notice of their intention to take APL which can be for any period of between 2 weeks and 26 weeks. Employees have to self-certify their entitlement and provide a signed declaration by the child’s mother. Fathers can receive Additional Statutory Paternity Pay if they take APL during the mother’s 39 week Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) period to be paid at the same rate as SMP. The current paternity leave entitlement of a maximum of 2 weeks to be taken within 56 days of the date of child’s birth will remain and be known as Ordinary Paternity Leave (OPL).

Employers should amend their Paternity, Maternity and Adoption Leave Policies to refer to APL and make line managers aware of the new right so that they can deal with any enquiries from prospective new fathers.

Whistleblowing Claim Forms sent to Regulators
From 6 April 2010 any Tribunal Claim Form received by an Employment Tribunal which contains a claim under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (commonly referred to as a whistleblowing claim) will be sent by the Tribunal to the relevant Regulator. However Claimants must give their express consent to the form being sent and the Tribunals Service will write to both parties to inform them that the Claim Form has been sent and to which Regulator.

Information Commissioner given power to impose £500,000 fine
From 6 April 2010 the Information Commissioner will have the power to impose a fine for breaches of the Data Protection Act (occurring after that date) of up to £500,000. The fines are intended for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act. However there is no exception for small businesses although the financial resources of a business will be taken into account when determining the level of the fine.

Increases in Statutory Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Pay
From 6 April 2010 the new rate of Statutory Maternity Pay, Statutory Paternity Pay and Statutory Adoption Pay will be £124.88 per week.

The rate of Statutory Sick Pay will remain at its present level of £79.15 per week.

For further information call Howes Percival on 01604 230400

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