January’s Employment Law Digest – 2023 in Review
23rd January, 2024
In 2023, we saw the King's Coronation, a number of political 'exits' and by-elections, the aftermath of the ongoing Covid-19 Inquiry and a steady stream of strike action.
A busy year all round with the world of employment law being no exception. As we enter an election year, this is only set to continue however, before we take a look at 2024, we first reflect on some of the key employment law updates from 2023.
Family Friendly Rights
2023 was a big year for family friendly rights with both the Carer’s Leave Act 2023 and the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023 receiving Royal Assent in May 2023. The former will take effect on 6 April 2024 and introduces the right to take one week’s unpaid leave, per year, to arrange or provide care for dependants with long-term care needs. The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act 2023 is expected to take effect in April 2025 and will introduce neonatal leave and pay, for up to 12 weeks, for parents of new-born babies admitted to neonatal care.
Another act receiving Royal Assent in May 2023 was the Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Act 2023. As the law currently stands, employees on maternity leave (and some other types of family related leave) are given special protection if a redundancy situation arises during their period of leave. In effect, employers are required to prioritise these employees when considering suitable alternative vacancies. The Act is due to come into force on 6 April 2024 and will extend this protection. For employees on maternity leave, protection will start at the point they notify their employer of the pregnancy and will end 18 months following the expected week of childbirth (or date of birth, if known).
The law on flexible working was also given an overhaul. Although not yet in force, the new legislation will make flexible working requests a ‘day 1 right’ and will allow employees to make two requests within a 12-month period, rather than one. The period in which an employer must respond to the request will be reduced to two months (down from three), new consulting obligations will be imposed and employees will be relieved from the obligation to explain the impact of their request. It is anticipated that the new legislation will take effect on 6 April 2024.
The Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Act 2023, which had its first reading back in June 2022, received Royal Assent in October 2023. The Act is expected to take effect in October 2024 and imposes a positive duty on employers to take ‘reasonable steps’ to prevent sexual harassment of their employees. The Act also gives Employment Tribunals the power to increase compensation for sexual harassment, by up to 25%, in cases where employers have breached this new, positive duty.
Whilst the Act was somewhat watered down during its journey through Parliament, it is crucial that this amendment does not fall under the radar. We would recommend that existing policies and procedures are reviewed and updated where necessary and that additional training is considered.
Strikes and Industrial Action
In 2023, industrial action remained high on the agenda. We saw trade union membership increase and high profile strikes on an almost weekly basis. In July, the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 received Royal Assent. The Act introduces new powers to set ‘minimum service levels’ during strikes, in several key sectors that provide essential public services including transport, health, fire and rescue and education. The new minimum service levels will not come into force until sector specific regulations have been passed. Employers will then have the power to issue ‘work notices’ preventing certain workers from strike action, to ensure that the minimum service levels are met.
Unsurprisingly, the Act has been met with controversy with the opposition confirming its intention to repeal the legislation.
EU Retained Law
Despite the Brexit referendum taking place almost eight years ago, the UK is still working through the bureaucracy and red tape involved in leaving the EU. The infamous ‘sunset clause’, which intended to revoke all retained EU law unless it was ‘saved’ beforehand, was effectively reversed. Rather than revoking thousands of laws en masse, specific pieces of legislation were identified and revoked, many of which were duplicative and unnecessary.
Increasing Visa Fees
As we continued to grapple with the cost-of-living crisis, the Home Office announced that visas were about to become a lot more expensive. It was announced that application fees would increase by 15-20% and the Immigration Health Surcharge would increase from £624 to a staggering £1,035 per person, per year. The application fee increase took effect in October 2023 and the increase to the Immigration Health Surcharge is now expected to come into force in early February. With many employers contributing towards visa and relocation costs, these increases are likely to be felt by many.
The trend of increasing costs continued and the Home Office announced that it intended to increase the civil penalty, for employers found to be employing illegal workers, three-fold. It was announced that the civil penalty would increase to £45,000 (up from £15,000) for a first breach and to £60,000 (up from £20,000) for repeat breaches. With these changes set to take effect later this month, and enforcement activity on the rise, there has never been a better time to review your right to work procedures and carry out an internal audit.
Skilled Worker Visas
As an early ‘Christmas present’, in December 2023, we received the news that the minimum annual salary for a Skilled Worker visa was due to increase by almost 50% from £26,200 to £38,700. Although many details are yet to be confirmed, we are expecting the changes to take effect in April and the Home Office has provided some reassurance that transitional arrangements will be implemented to protect those already on the Skilled Worker route.
This announcement forms part of the ‘five-point plan’ which attempts to reduce net migration by 300,000. Other measures include scrapping the Shortage Occupation List and tightening the rules regarding dependant visas. With almost 100,000 employers on the list of registered sponsors, and with many relying on overseas workers to plug recruitment gaps, this is likely to remain high on the agenda.
With so many changes throughout the year it can often be difficult to stay in the loop. One way to keep on top of it all is through our HR Protect Hub we regularly post insights, case law updates and links to upcoming employment events. If you are interested in unlimited advice, over 300 documents and templates to download, and guidance at your fingertips 24/7 leave your details here and a member of the team will be in touch.
If you would like to any more information about any of the subjects raised in the article above, please do get in touch with Isabelle or another of our expert Employment law Solicitors.
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
This page may contain links that direct you to third party websites. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.