Employment Law Changes on 5 April 2015 and beyond

Some significant changes to employment law occur on 5 April 2015, mainly in the area of family leave.  The headline news is the introduction of shared parental leave but various other changes will also take effect. These are set out below. At the very end there is reference to the new Fit to Work Plan arriving in Autumn 2015.

You need to update your family leave policies to include the new right to shared parental leave and the other changes to family leave.  You will need to ensure you have forms and letters available for shared parental leave and you should consider what record keeping procedures you need to put in place.

1. Shared Parental Leave and Pay

Shared parental leave and pay is introduced that will provide greater flexibility in how parents share the care of their child in its first year. It is for couples with a baby due on or after 5 April.

The mother will need to take the first two weeks off after the birth and the rest of her leave and pay can then be shared between the parents, either in turns or at the same time.  This means that up to 50 weeks’ leave and 37 weeks’ pay can be shared.

2. Additional paternity leave

Additional paternity leave is being replaced by shared parental leave and will not be available where the expected week of childbirth starts on or after 5 April 2015.

3. Statutory Adoption and Pay

There are significant changes to adoption leave. The 26-week qualifying period to be eligible to take adoption leave will be removed, bringing it into line with the eligibility requirements for maternity leave.

Statutory adoption pay is brought into line with statutory maternity pay by setting it at 90% of average weekly earnings for the first 6 weeks, then the basic rate for 33 weeks.

Surrogate parents will also become eligible for adoption leave. The leave will be available to employees who are, or expect to be, the parents of a child under a parental order, where the child’s expected week of birth begins on or after 5 April 2015.

There is a new right for local authority parents who are prospective adopters to take adoption leave.

There is a new right to attend adoption appointments. The main adopter will be able to take time off to attend up to 5, while the secondary adopter will be entitled to take time off for up to 2 such appointments.

4.  Parental leave extended

A parent with one year’s employment will be able to take unpaid parental leave of up to 18 weeks in respect of a child under 18. Previously the child had to be under 5, or under 18 if disabled.  This right also applies to adoptive parents.

5. Statutory Maternity Pay, Paternity Pay and Adoption Pay increases

The rates of statutory maternity, ordinary statutory paternity pay and statutory adoption pay increase on 5 April 2015 from £138.18 to £139.58.

6. Statutory Sick Pay increase

The standard rate of statutory sick pay increases on 6 April 2015 from £87.55 to £88.45. Yes, this is a day later than for the other ones!

7.  Limit for Statutory Redundancy and the Basic Award for Unfair Dismissal

As of 6 April, the limit for a week’s pay will rise from £464 to £475 per week.

8. Removal of Restrictions on Defined Contribution Pension Plans

There will be the removal of certain restrictions in respect of how individuals can draw their benefits from their defined-contribution pension pots after age 55 from April 2015.

9.  Changes to National Insurance

As of 6 April, employers’ national insurance will not be due in relation to employees under 21 (subject to an earnings threshold).

New Fit to Work Plan

In Autumn 2015, a new Fit to Work guidance plan comes in. The government is promoting it as being of particular benefit to Small to Medium Sized Enterprises that may have limited access to occupational health advice and services.

The new Fit for Work service is scheduled to be introduced in England and Wales from Autumn 2015, offering employers access to free occupational assistance for employees who have been off sick for four weeks or more.

The service can also be used to provide more generalised open-access occupational health advice to employees, employers and general practitioners, regardless of the duration of any sickness.

Employers will be able to claim up to £500 tax relief on payments for medical treatment for their employees where the treatment has been recommended under the new scheme.

Tom Redfern