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With yesterday’s announcement from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak that the General Election will be on Thursday 4 July finally giving some clarity for businesses amid a year of change, what do employers need to do now to prepare? How could the upcoming election impact employment law, and what are the key points of interest for employers?

Kate Palmer, Employment Services Director at Peninsula, the global HR, Health & Safety, and employment law advisory company, takes a look at the main political parties and the promises being made around workplace reform.

Conservatives win re-election

2024 has already been a year of change like no other, with 10 new employment laws having taken effect already and more promised. If the Conservatives win re-election this should continue as planned, with the following changes already having been announced:

  • Neonatal care leave and pay
  • Reform of industrial action laws
  • Back to Work plan, including proposed reform of fit notes
  • Reform of the umbrella company market
  • Continuation of the National Disability Strategy
  • Reintroduction of employment tribunal fees
  • Reform of non-compete clauses
  • TUPE reform
  • Address the definition of ‘sex’ in the Equality Act 2010

There are further Bills currently being debated including the Paternity Leave (Bereavement) Bill, Bullying and Respect at Work Bill, Fertility Treatment (Employment Rights) Bill and the Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill. It remains to be seen which, if any, of these would become law should the Tories remain in power.

Labour wins

The Labour party manifesto has laid out approximately 60 changes to employment laws that they would look to bring in, should they win the General Election. They have also pledged to bring about these changes within 100 days of taking office – no mean feat. We don’t know what that would look like in practice, whether consultation periods on draft bills would happen within the 100 days or if they would be looking to push through the end legislation.

These are the main areas of change that business owners should be aware of should Labour win the election:

  • Day one rights – removing the qualifying periods for basic rights such as unfair dismissal, sick pay, and parental leave, so they would become day one rights
  • Establishing a single status of ‘worker’, thereby removing the current distinction between employees and workers. Under this plan, all workers would be afforded the same basic rights and protections around sick pay, holiday pay, parental leave, protection against unfair dismissal, etc.
  • Strengthening existing rights and protections, including for pregnant workers, whistleblowers, workers made redundant and those subject to TUPE processes.
  • Raising wages for workers – various commitments including continuing raising the National Living Wage, immediately increasing minimum wage to at least £10 per hour for all workers who are not already at that rate, reforming the role of the Low Pay Commission, ensuring travel time is paid in sectors with multiple working sites, acting on ‘sleep over’ hours in sectors such as social care, banning certain unpaid internships, and creating Fair Pay Agreements
  • Increasing Statutory Sick Pay and making it available for all workers, including those currently excluded because of low wages
  • Acting to close gender, disability and ethnicity pay gaps, permitting equal pay comparisons across employers where comparable work is carried out, and introducing mandatory publication of ethnicity pay gap for all firms with more than 250 staff
  • Requiring employers to create and maintain workplaces and working conditions free from harassment, including by third parties
  • Making flexible working a default right from day one, with employers required to accommodate this as far as is reasonable
  • Family friendly protections – extending statutory maternity and paternity leave, introducing a right to bereavement leave, making it unlawful to dismiss pregnant employees for six months after their return from maternity leave except in specific circumstances, and reviewing the shared parental leave system
  • Strengthening the rights of workers to respond to family emergencies with paid family and carer’s leave, flexible working, and a greater ability for workers to enforce their rights
  • Zero hours contracts – banning ‘one sided’ flexibility, ensuring anyone working regular hours for 12 weeks’ or more gets the right to a regular contract that reflects the hours they work, a requirement for all workers to get reasonable notice of any change in their shifts or working time, and recompense for cancelled shifts
  • Fire and rehire – improving the information and consultation procedures, and adapting unfair dismissal and redundancy legislation to prevent workers being dismissed for not agreeing to less favourable contract terms
  • Raising awareness of neurodiversity and reviewing workplace provisions for stress, mental health and long Covid
  • Introducing a new right to disconnect and protection for workers from remote surveillance
  • Strengthening the trade union right of entry to work places, simplifying the process of union recognition, strengthening the protections for trade union reps, and introducing a new duty on employers to inform the workforce of their right to join a union
  • Extending the time limit for bringing employment tribunal claims and removing the compensation caps

Liberal Democrats win

The Liberal Democrats have not released a full manifesto yet, so not much is known at this stage. They have, however, made some pledges around changes to parental leave and paternity pay, as below:

  • Parental leave reform – Give all workers, including self-employed parents, a day one right to parental leave and pay. Each parent would get 6 weeks ‘use it or lose it’ leave, with 46 weeks of parental leave to share between themselves as they choose. After the initial 6 weeks, parental pay would be £350 per week
  • Paternity pay would be increased to 90% of earnings, with a cap for high earners