Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic have stalled employment law changes in recent years, but some of these could be resurrected in 2021. To help employers prepare and avoid any surprises, XpertHR outlines seven proposed employment law changes that HR professionals should have on their radar:

1. Strengthening workplace sexual harassment laws – Following the #MeToo movement, the government looked at what more could be done to ensure employers take all the steps they can to prevent workplace sexual harassment.

Employers are already liable for harassment carried out by their employees at work unless they have taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent the harassment. However, a positive duty on employers to take steps to prevent harassment could prompt employers to review their policies and procedures more rigorously.

In 2021, HR professionals should also look out for the new statutory code of practice on sexual harassment. The Equality and Human Rights Commission is developing the new code and is expected to consult on a draft version before it is introduced.

2. Clarifying the law on settlement agreements – To tackle misuse of confidentiality clauses when workplace harassment or discrimination occurs, the government stated its aim to require employers to set out more clearly the consequences and limitations of confidentiality clauses in contracts of employment and settlement agreements.

Proposals are closely linked with the above workplace sexual harassment reforms, and it makes sense for both sets of reforms to be introduced at the same time, which would give employers a double challenge. However, there is nothing to prevent employers from reviewing their use of confidentiality clauses now.

3. Overhauling family-friendly rights – The government has mooted a wide variety of potential changes to family-friendly rights in recent years, including an overhaul of flexible working rules, the introduction of statutory carers’ leave and neonatal leave, and changes to statutory paternity leave to encourage fathers to take more leave.

The pandemic has radically altered the perception of flexible working. Millions have become used to working remotely and employers are having to rethink their policies since flexible working is now being seen by many as the default position. While this shift is being driven by circumstances, employers can expect legislative changes in the next few years.

4. Pregnancy and maternity leave: extending redundancy protection – Employees on maternity leave already have the right to be offered any suitable alternative vacancy in a redundancy situation. However, the government intends to extend this protection to cover the period from the employer finding out about the pregnancy to six months after the employee’s maternity leave ends.

If this comes into force, employers would need to review their redundancy policies and procedures to ensure they cover the right for those on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave to be offered any suitable alternative vacancy on redundancy.

Those implementing a redundancy process would also need to ensure that they take account of the extended redundancy protection period where any employees at risk of redundancy are pregnant or have recently returned to work from maternity, adoption or shared parental leave.


5. Addressing “one-sided flexibility” in working hours – The Government suggested that it will legislate for the right for workers to “request a more predictable and stable contract” and be provided with “reasonable and recordable” work schedules.

These changes would particularly affect employers reliant on casual and zero hours workers. Employers with this sort of flexible workforce would have to tighten up their planning for work schedules and put in place a procedure to allow workers to request a more stable contract.

6. Introduction of ethnicity pay gap reporting – With gender pay gap reporting legislation having bedded in, the Government put forward options for requiring large employers to publish information on their pay gap for people from different ethnicities. If reporting is consistent, employers would be better able to benchmark their progress towards a more diverse workforce.  Challenges for employers would primarily revolve around three areas – classification of ethnicity; collection and analysis of data; and data protection.

7. Extending the requirement to produce modern slavery statements  The government is making major changes to the duty on large employers to publish an annual modern slavery statement. The changes will also bring large public-sector organisations within the scope of the duty to produce a modern slavery statement.

Given the increased public scrutiny that a single reporting deadline is likely to bring, HR professionals should liaise with their media/publicity department to ensure that their modern slavery statement, and the publicity around it, conveys the right messages.

Stephen Simpson, a principal employment law editor at XpertHR says, “We recommend HR professionals familiarise themselves with these proposed employment law changes and the possible impact on their organisation. They could also start reviewing policies and procedures now to ensure compliance once these laws do come into effect.”

Stephen outlines in detail what these proposed law changes are and what these mean for organisations in his article, ‘Seven major proposals that may progress in 2021’.

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Lisa Baker

Author Lisa Baker

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