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Key Employment Law Changes in 2017

2017 has been a big year for employment law. From several landmark cases to the highly-public HR failings of Uber, Deliveroo and even Google and recent National Minimum wage statistics, this year's events have provided a crucial reminder to businesses that no organisation is too big or influential to avoid scrutiny.

In this article, we discuss three key employment law changes that have taken place so far in 2017 explaining the ins and outs and what these changes mean for employers.

Employment Tribunal Fees

It seems only right that we start with this year's most significant change in employment law.

On 26 July, the Supreme Court ruled that employment tribunal fees were unlawful because of their effects on access to justice.

Employment tribunal fees were first introduced in 2013 as a way of cutting the number of cases that the Government deemed to be malicious or weak. However, the fees caused an overall 79% decrease in the number of cases submitted over the last three years. This caused uproar amongst many unions and related bodies and led to a campaign to remove the fees via the Courts.

As well as scrapping the fees, the Government will have to reimburse a reported £32m in compensation to claimants who were unlawfully charged.

Claimants who were prevented from pursuing their claims due to inability to pay the fees may also be able to argue that their claims should be accepted out of time now.

So, what does the decision mean for business owners?

Whilst the ruling is no doubt a step in the right direction, many in the HR community believe that the removal of the financial barrier could cause an increase in certain types of claims. Experts predict an increase in the number of equal pay, maternity discrimination, discriminatory dress code and age discrimination claims that would have otherwise been more difficult to pursue before the decision.

There could also be a surge in claims from claimants seeking to pursue out of time claims. It is unclear how successful this argument will be and what the mechanics of pursuing such a claim will be, but there has already been a case in the Tribunals on a similar point which was successful.

Religious dress in the workplace

One of the most controversial employment law decisions of the year, the European Court of Just (ECJ) ruling that employers can ban religious clothing and symbols from the workplace, left employers in a tricky position.

The ruling stated that employers would be within their rights to ban political, religious or philosophical clothing or symbols in the workplace as long as it forms part of a dress code that is neutral.

Supporters of the decision argued that political and religious neutrality is a perfectly reasonable aim, however, because the ruling effectively gives employers the authority to ban Sikhs from wearing turbans and Jewish men from wearing kippahs, many from faith communities felt the new powers awarded to employers indicated that their beliefs were unwelcome.

What does this mean for employers?

The danger that the ruling would disproportionately affect specific groups – eg Muslim women – by excluding them from the workforce is something that employers will have to undoubtedly tread carefully over in the future. 

Furthermore, employment tribunal claims over discriminatory dress codes are expected to rise following the removal of employment tribunal fees. Employers should therefore evaluate their dress code policies as a priority to ensure that they are up to date and non-discriminatory.

Gender Pay Gap Reporting

On  6 April 2017, regulations came into force that required businesses with 250 employees or more to publish prescribed information about their pay gap results.

The results of the reports are required to be published on a Government website as well as the employer’s own website. This means that the information will be publicly available to competitors, clients and employees.

The impact that the mandatory reporting can have on businesses was proven vividly when the BBC received accusations of discrimination after publishing a list of their top 96 earners.

The gap in pay for those who are compensated drastically differently for doing the same job caused public outrage and dominated the headlines for weeks following the revelation. More of the same is expected as other businesses reveal their statistics.

What does this mean for employers?

The decision to move towards mandatory gender pay reporting is indicative of a wider shift in attitudes towards pay inequality.

Even if your business employs fewer than 250 employees and will not be affected by the regulations, employers should be aware of the increased awareness of the gender pay gap, which is now slowly expanding to an awareness of general diversity gaps.

Again, the removal of employment tribunal fees could spark an increase in the number of sex and other discrimination claims.

So, employers should consider taking steps to review policies that could be responsible for causing a disparity in wages between male and female employees. For example, allowing employees to work flexibly. They should also consider their diversity policies as a whole and implement processes to ensure an equal footing for all elements of the workforce, where possible.

For more Employment Law and HR news and information visit Wildings Solicitors

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to Wildings Solicitors directly.

Published on 18th August 2017
(Last updated 21st March 2018)

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