At the turn of every new year inevitably there are some significant employment law changes, and 2017 is no different especially amid the ongoing uncertainty resulting from the Brexit referendum. Below we have provided a brief overview of what both employers and employees can expect.

Employment Status

Aslam and others v Uber BV and others (EAT)

In 2016 this was a case that hit the headlines and is likely to continue to do so in the coming year. The key decision by the Employment Tribunal was that Uber drivers are workers rather than self-employed. This means that they are entitled to receive the national minimum wage and paid annual leave.

This is a test case for the employment status of anyone who works in non-traditional ways. And, if you have freelancers or “self-employed” consultants working in your business it could mean that they too are entitled to statutory entitlements. Remember also that claims once made, can go back over several years.

National minimum wage changes aligned

Cycles for national minimum wage increases including the national living wage will be aligned, with the next round of changes taking effect on 1 April 2017. The next increase will see the national living wage for staff aged 25 or over rising to £7.50.

Trade union balloting changes to be implemented

Employers await the implementation date for new balloting requirements under the Trade Union Act 2016.Under the rules, a successful vote for strike action will require a 50% minimum turnout and a majority vote in favour of industrial action. Industrial action in important public services will require a strike vote of 40% of all eligible voters.

Equal Pay
Brierley and others v ASDA Stores Ltd (employment tribunal)

This case dominated the headlines during the latter part of 2016 and is set to be one of the biggest if not the biggest case of 2017. It relates to the difference in pay between men and women and is perhaps the single biggest, high profile case of its kind in the private sector.

If you are a business captured under the gender pay gap reporting legislation, from April 2017 you will be required to calculate your gender pay gap and publish the details by April 2018. If like many businesses your pay policy has simply evolved over time due to circumstances such as market forces, skill shortages etc. you may find on examination that this has resulted in gaps between male and female employees that were never intended but, need to be addressed without further delay.

Employment Tribunal Fees
R (on the application of Unison) v Lord Chancellor and another (Supreme Court)

Since July 2013 workers in the UK have been charged a fee to bring a claim to tribunal, a further fee if the claim is heard and a third fee if they want to appeal the decision.

However, since the introduction of fees in 2013, there has been an unprecedented fall in the number of tribunal claims for example, in the first quarter of 2013 before the fees were introduced, there were 13,491 claims brought in contrast to the first quarter of 2015 which saw only 4,229 claims brought.

The trade union Unison have sought unsuccessfully to have employment fees ruled unlawful. While the Court of Appeal rejected this claim on the basis that there was insufficient evidence of claimants’ inability to afford the fees, the Supreme Court is expected to hear Unison’s appeal against this decision in March 2017.

No employer or for that matter employee welcomes the stress, anxiety and cost of an employment tribunal case. And, whether £1,200 to bring an unfair dismissal claim – where the average award of compensation is no more than about £5,000 is proportionate and reasonable is a whole other debate.

The practical reality is that if Unison’s case succeeds, it is highly likely that we would again see a rise in the overall number of cases and this is certainly one to watch in 2017.

Salary-sacrifice schemes significantly restricted

Employers may need to reconsider their benefit offerings as tax savings through many salary-sacrifice schemes will be abolished from 6 April 2017.

However it should be noted that schemes related to pension savings (including pensions advice), childcare, cycle-to-work and ultra-low emission cars will not be affected.

Schemes in place prior to April 2017 will be protected until April 2018, while arrangements related to cars, accommodation and school fees will be protected until April 2021.

Restraints on public-sector exit payments still expected

Restrictions on public-sector exit payments, which had been expected to come into force in 2016, are still anticipated, although their implementation dates have not yet been confirmed.

Exit payments will be capped at £95,000 when public-sector employees leave their roles, including as a result of redundancy or voluntary exit. Employees earning over £80,000 will also be required to repay exit payments if they return to any public-sector role within 12 months.

Changes to rules for employing foreign workers

Employers sponsoring foreign workers with a tier 2 visa will be required to pay an immigration skills charge of £1,000 per worker (£364 for small employers and charities) beginning in April 2017. The immigration skills charge will be in addition to current fees for visa applications.

In April 2017, the minimum salary threshold for “experienced workers” applying for a tier 2 visa will also increase to £30,000. New entrants to the job market, and some health and education staff will be exempted from the salary threshold until 2019.

If you need advice on any aspects of employment law, then please get in touch with us.