Spring is often a season of change for employment law, and this year is certainly no different.  With the festivities of Christmas a distant memory, employers and HR professionals alike need to keep abreast of the various new rates that are set to take effect and other legal developments.

From family matters to holiday pay, the landscape of employment law rarely stops evolving.  To help you stay updated, we have pulled together an overview of some recent decisions, and changes that you will need to be aware of as we head towards the summer months.

Shared Parental Leave (‘SPL’)

The SPL scheme is now in force and applies to children who are born or placed for adoption on or after 5 April 2015.  It allows parents or those adopting to choose how they share the care of their child in the first year of birth or adoption.  Parents can choose how to split periods of leave between them, take discontinuous blocks of leave, and can sometimes take leave simultaneously.

Although the SPL scheme may sound complex, the basic principles are fairly straightforward.  Employees will be eligible for SPL if they are the child’s mother or main adopter, the child’s father, or the spouse, civil partner or partner of the child’s mother/main adopter (alongside certain other requirements).

Those eligible will be legally entitled to share 52 weeks of SPL.  The leave can be shared in a number of blocks, or can be taken as one continuous block.  Employers are entitled to refuse a request for discontinuous blocks of SPL, for example, if the needs of the business do not permit it.

Parents taking SPL may be entitled to 39 weeks of Shared Parental Leave Pay, subject to meeting certain conditions.  For specific rates, please see below.

To take SPL, employees must first ‘opt-in’ by providing the necessary information to establish that they are eligible for SPL.  Once the employer has confirmed that they are eligible, employees must give the employer notice for each period of SPL they intend to take, at least 8 weeks before they take it.

To make the management of SPL as easy as possible, Employmentor subscribers have access to a Shared Parental Leave Policy, a checklist of requirements, and a suite of all the essential forms.

New rates

From 5 April 2015, statutory maternity, adoption, paternity, additional maternity and shared parental leave pay increases to £139.58 per week (up from £138.18 per week).

From 6 April 2015, statutory sick pay will increase to £88.45 per week (up from £87.55 per week).

Employment Tribunal compensation limits

From 6 April 2015, the Employment Tribunal compensations limits will increase.  For the purposes of the basic award, a weeks’ pay will be capped at £475 and the compensatory award will be capped at the lower of 52 weeks’ salary or £78,335.

Statutory redundancy payments

From 6 April 2015, when calculating statutory redundancy, a weeks’ pay will be capped at £475.  The maximum statutory redundancy payment will therefore be £14,250.

Holiday pay

A particularly popular topic with employers at the moment is how holiday pay is calculated.  Recent decisions have suggested that commission (in Lock v British Gas Trading Limited) and overtime (in BEAR Scotland v Fulton) will be included for the purposes of calculating holiday pay.

Whilst much has been written on the subject, and it is clear that compulsory overtime will need to be included in holiday pay, the law is still uncertain on how such sums are calculated.  We can expect another decision on Lock shortly and the outcome of the appeal in BEAR Scotland at the end of March.   Until we have those decisions, the position as to calculating holiday pay remains unclear.  We will publish a full article on the implications of the holiday pay cases once they have been released.

Obesity as a disability

Many of you will have read about the recent decision in the Court of Justice of the European Union (‘CJEU’) which held that, in certain circumstances, obesity may fall within the definition of disability for the purposes of equality legislation.  Contrary to some reports, this does not mean that obesity of itself is a disability.  Rather, it means that the effects that being obese have on an individual may amount to a disability under employment law.

If the obesity of a worker “hinders the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers” then obesity may fall within the definition of disability.  The CJEU suggested that examples of this may be where mobility is substantially decreased, or if obesity gives rise to other medical conditions, such as joint problems or diabetes.

Where obesity gives rise to a disability, employers will be required to make reasonable adjustments, which may include making access to the office easier or providing more appropriate seating arrangements.  Employers will also be exposed to the risk of Employment Tribunal claims in the event that they treat a worker less favourably on the basis of the disability caused by their obesity.

There are bound to be a range of opinions on this case.  However, it is important to remember that obesity of itself is not a disability, but the effects of it can be.  Whilst employers need not start taking drastic action just yet, they will need be aware of the potential issues that may arise from this recent decision.

Reasonableness of an investigation – unfair dismissal

The Court of Appeal has recently held that an employee was fairly dismissed following an investigation which highlighted that he was claiming mileage exceeding that which was recommended for each journey by the AA and RAC.

The employee was employed as a support worker who often travelled as part of his job.  For each journey, the employee was entitled to claim travel expenses.  The employer reviewed the mileage that the employee was claiming, and found that it was in excess of that recommended for each journey.  At the disciplinary hearing, the employee claimed there were various reasons for the excessive mileage, including road works, which made the journeys longer.  The employer adjourned the hearing and carried out further investigations.  The employer concluded that the employee’s defence did not properly explain why each mileage claim was in excess of the recommended journey, but did not investigate in detail each of the employee’s explanations.  As such, he was dismissed for gross misconduct.

The employee brought a claim for unfair dismissal on the basis that, whilst the initial investigation was reasonable, the employer had not given proper consideration to his subsequent responses to the allegation.

Dismissing the employee’s appeal, the Court of Appeal held that the reasonableness of an investigation was by reference to the investigation as a whole, for the purposes of unfair dismissal.  It was said by the Court that employers are not required to enquire further than necessary into the employee’s defences or explanations; a decision of some comfort to employers.

For more information on any of the topics in this article, please contact a member of the team on 01603 281139.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any particular circumstance.

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