Last week, the Liberal Democrats published their manifesto for the upcoming General Election and there are a number of significant employment law proposals. Whilst it is extremely unlikely that the Liberal Democrats will win the election, going by the results of May's local elections, the party may win a number of seats and could try to push some of their proposals through, for example as Private Members' Bills.

This article covers the main employment proposals that will be of interest to employers.

Gig workers' rights

The Liberal Democrats have focused on aligning employment rights with the realities of the 'gig economy', by proposing to:

  • establish a new 'dependent contractor' status between traditional employment and self-employment, with basic rights such as minimum earnings levels, sick pay and holiday entitlement. However, it is unclear how those with 'dependent contractor' status would differ from those with 'worker' status, and what difference there would be in practice
  • review the tax and National Insurance status of employees, dependent contractors and freelancers, and the rules regarding pensions, to ensure that gig economy workers do not miss out
  • increase the minimum wage for people on zero-hours contracts by 20% (during times of normal demand) to compensate for the uncertainty of fluctuating hours. The manifesto also pledges to give zero-hours and agency workers a right to request a fixed-hours contract after 12 months, which cannot be unreasonably refused. For employers that use zero-hour contracts, this would clearly have financial implications and zero-hour contractors may be sought on a short-term basis. No detail is given on how long the fixed-hours contract would be required to be and how this request would be made in practice.

Parental rights

This is the area where the Liberal Democrats have proposed the most wide-spread reform, with the party proposing to:

  • make all parental pay and leave day-one rights, and extend them to self-employed parents and kinship carers. This would affect employment contracts and policies, and increase payroll costs
  • double Statutory Maternity and Shared Parental Pay to £350 a week
  • increase pay for paternity leave to 90% of earnings (with a cap for high earners). In addition, the Liberal Democrats will introduce an extra 'use-it-or-lose-it month' for fathers and partners, paid at 90% of earnings
  • require large employers to publish their parental leave and pay policies.

Carers' rights

Care is another significant area which has been a focus of the Liberal Democrats' election campaign. The manifesto pledges to:

  • introduce 'caring' and 'care experience' as new protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, which would be a significant development in the law and have major implications on employers. This would require employers to make reasonable adjustments to enable employees with caring responsibilities to allow them to provide such care
  • introduce a statutory guarantee of regular respite breaks for unpaid carers, and build upon the entitlement for paid carer's leave. There is no detail provided on what 'regular' means or what the permitted length of respite breaks would be, but if introduced this would have to be tightly monitored in order to be compliant.

Disability rights and sickness absence

In relation to disability rights and sickness absence, the Liberal Democrats have proposed to:

  • make Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) available to any workers earning less than £123 a week and will align this rate with the National Minimum Wage. This would expand SSP to approximately two more million workers, so employers would have to consider the financial impact of this, and SSP payments would be made available from the first day of missing work (as opposed to the fourth)
  • introduce specialist disability employment support, raise awareness of the Access to Work scheme, and introduce 'Adjustment Passports' which can be used to record adjustments, modifications and equipment which a disabled person has received at work to ensure it stays with them if they change jobs.

Other measures

The Liberal Democrats have also proposed to:

  • require large employers to publish data on gender, ethnicity, disability, and LGBT+ employment levels, pay gaps and progression, and to circulate five-year aspirational diversity targets. Employers would therefore need to review their current policies and ensure transparency. Any pay gaps would have to be addressed and tackled, as otherwise it would lead to a sharp increase in equal pay and discrimination claims
  • extend the use of name-blind recruitment processes in the public sector, and encourage their use in the private sector
  • allow 'everyone' the right to flexible working as a day-one right (subject to significant business reasons), which would impact flexible working policies and the number of requests received
  • encourage employers to promote employee ownership by giving staff in listed companies with more than 250 employees a right to request shares, to be held in trust for the benefit of employees. There are no details as to how this would work in practice, e.g. whether there would be a qualifying period of service, whether the employer would be able to refuse the request, who would the trustees be and in what circumstances the shares could be sold
  • replace the apprenticeship levy with a more flexible skills and training levy. The Liberal Democrats will also ensure apprentices are paid at least the National Minimum Wage by scrapping the lower apprentice rate.

Overall, the Liberal Democrats' proposals mark a significant shift from the current system. If any of the above proposals were to be pushed through, there will be a lot for employers to consider. If you would like to discuss any of the proposals outlined in this article and how they could potentially impact your organisation, we have a dedicated team of specialist employment lawyers who can help, so please get in touch


A special thank you to Amy Battinson who helped put this article together.


This article is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice.