Busy month for employment law changes

EMPLOYERS are assessing the impact of several important employment law changes introduced at the beginning of October (2009).

The changes in legislation include increases in the national minimum wage (NMW) and redundancy pay, clarification of the code of practice relating to time off for union activity and the end of the statutory grievance procedure (SGP).

Lisa Jinks, employment and employee benefits specialist at Peterborough-based Greenwoods Solicitors LLP said, “The impact on employers of these various changes will be mixed. Such changes as the increased redundancy payment, NMW and data protection notification will impose more financial burden and regulation on employers. However, the ACAS code of practice is likely to clarify time off for trade union activities and the end of the SGP will be greatly welcomed by employers.”

Here is a round-up of the changes:

Increase in national minimum wage (‘NMW’)

From 1 October 2009, the NMW was increased slightly as follows:

  • Employees aged 22 and over: £5.80 from £5.75
  • Employees aged 18-21: £4.83 from £4.77
  • Employees aged 16 or 17: £3.57 from £3.53

Whilst these are not significant increases, employers must be sure that they comply with the NMW as the potential consequence of failing to pay this is, at the least, an order that the difference is paid as arrears to the employee, and at the worst, a conviction leading to a fine being payable by the employer.

Increase in redundancy pay

    Also with effect from October 1, the maximum weekly earnings for the purpose of calculating statutory redundancy pay and the basic award in unfair dismissal cases increased from £350 to £380. Statutory redundancy pay (and the basic award) is calculated with reference to the employee’s weekly earnings, the age of the employee and length of service.

    This increase is in place of the annual review that would have ordinarily taken place in February 2010 and was brought forward by the Government ‘to provide more support for employees being made redundant in the current economic climate‘. However, this limit will now be frozen until the review in February 2011.

    Data protection notification fees for large organisations

    Every organisation which processes personal information must notify the Information Commissioners Office of this fact unless they are exempt. The standard fee for notification is £35 per annum but for large organisations a fee of £500 per annum was payable from October 1. This applies to organisations with a turnover of £25.9m and 250 or more members of staff although it does not apply to registered charities and small occupational pension schemes.

    Companies that are part of a group should be aware that this notification fee will apply to each company individually where there is a data controller processing data.

    New ACAS Code of Practice on time off for trade union activities

    ACAS published an updated Code of Practice in October setting out employers’ obligations in relation to trade union representatives’ rights. Trade union representatives have the right to paid time off work for undertaking trade union duties and are protected from dismissal or detriment in relation to their role as a representative. Two sets of guidelines accompany the Code and are available on the ACAS website.

    Cut off date for the statutory grievance procedure

    The last remnants of the statutory dispute resolution procedures giving rise to automatically unfair dismissal disappeared on October 4. Claims made after this date will not be able to rely upon the statutory grievance procedure and the question will be one of fairness generally rather than whether the employer followed the statutory grievance procedure to the letter.