As usual, a number of changes in employment law are taking place in April. Here is a summary of the key changes.
The national minimum wage increased with effect from 1 April. The new rates are:
- National living wage (23+): £9.50 per hour
- Adult rate (21-22): £9.18 per hour
- Development rate (18-20): £6.83 per hour
- Youth rate (16-17): £4.81 per hour
- Apprentice rate (under 19 or in first year): £4.81 per hour
- Accommodation offset: £8.70 per day.
Employers will need to ensure they are paying in line with these new rates with effect from 1 April 2022.
Statutory payments also rise in early April. Statutory sick pay increases to £99.35 per week from 6 April, and statutory maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental and parental bereavement pay all went up to £156.66 per week with effect from 3 April. Again, employers should ensure that the correct rates are paid.
From 1 April 2022 new public health guidance applies, covering respiratory infections including COVID-19. Anyone with a positive COVID-19 test result is advised to try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days after the day they took the test. Anyone with symptoms is advised to try to stay at home and avoid contact with others until they no longer have a high temperature (if they had one) or until they no longer feel unwell. Individuals who have symptoms or test positive are advised to work from home if they can.
Free tests were withdrawn from 1 April. Instead, lateral flow tests can be bought from retailers at a cost of around £2 per test.
Lastly, most employers no longer have to consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments from 1 April. The duty to take reasonably practicable measures to protect employees and others from harm, including the risk of transmission of coronavirus within the workplace, will continue to apply after that date.
In light of the new guidance, employers should review and revise their existing policies on COVID-19 and sickness absence. It would be prudent to carry out these reviews in consultation with employees.
PPE to be provided to workers
From 6 April 2022, the Personal Protective Equipment at Work (Amendment) Regulations 2022 come into force and amend the 1992 Regulations. Under the new rules, employers will be required to provide suitable free personal protective equipment to workers as well as employees where there is a health and safety risk. In addition, if PPE is required, employers must ensure their workers have sufficient information, instruction and training on the use of PPE.
Employers who engage workers should review and revise their existing policies on PPE.
Employment tribunal limits
The new employment tribunal limits have been announced and will apply where the effective date of termination is on or after 6 April. The cap on a week's pay – for calculating a statutory redundancy payment (SRP) and a basic award – will be £571, the maximum basic award and SRP will be £17,130, and the maximum compensatory award will be £93,878 (or 52 weeks' pay if less). Guarantee pay is rising to £31 per day, with a maximum of £155 or five days in three months.
The award for a failure to provide a statement of written particulars increases to £1,142 or £2,284 (two or four weeks' pay). A breach of the right to be accompanied increases to £1,142 (two weeks' pay) and a breach of the flexible working regulations increases to £4,568 (eight weeks' pay).
This is not a change that requires employers to take immediate action but HR staff and in-house legal counsel should be aware of the increases.
Increases to the Vento bands
The Presidents of the Employment Tribunals in England & Wales and Scotland issued joint Presidential Guidance on 28 March 2022, updating the bands of awards for injury to feelings, known as the Vento bands.
In respect of claims presented on or after 6 April 2022, the new Vento bands will be as follows: a lower band of £990 to £9,900 for less serious cases; a middle band of £9,900 to £29,600 for cases that do not merit an award in the upper band, and an upper band of £29,600 to £49,300 in only the most serious cases. Awards in the most exceptional cases are capable of exceeding £49,300.
Although these increases will not affect employers directly, it is a change HR staff and in-house legal counsel should be aware of as it may have an impact on compensation in relevant cases.
The Certification Officer (the regulator for trade unions) has greater enforcement powers from 1 April.
She will be able to require trade unions to pay a levy to fund her functions, respond when a third party raises concerns that a union or employers' association may have breached its statutory duties and begin an investigation where she suspects a breach. She will be able to impose a financial penalty order and enforce it. The maximum penalty is £20,000. Breaches of statutory duties include allowing someone with a criminal record to hold a senior position, failing to hold elections where required, refusing to allow access to accounting records when requested, refusing to comply during investigations by the regulator into potential wrongdoing, and mismanaging political funds.
These modernisation reforms will bring the functions of the Certification Officer into line with other regulators like the Electoral Commission, the Pensions Regulator and the Financial Reporting Council.
Employers do not need to take any action but should be aware of these changes, in particular the fact that the Certification Officer can now investigate suspected breaches that are reported by third parties.
Right to work checks and new visa routes
A number of business immigration changes take place this Spring. Please see our recent article for more information.
April looks set to be a busy month, with plenty of changes and things to be aware of for employers, HR professionals and in-house lawyers. Please get in touch with your usual Womble Bond Dickinson contact if you have any queries.