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Key employment law updates | November 2021

4 min read

By Natalie Painter, Lowenna Carlson, Megan Berry

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Impact of the Autumn 2021 Budget on employment

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, delivered the Autumn 2021 Budget on 27 October 2021. A summary of the key changes which impact employment can be found below.

Skills and apprenticeships
  • The Government's Plan for Jobs initiative will see a £500 million expansion to target support to workers leaving the furlough scheme, the unemployed aged over 50, the lowest paid and young people.
  • There was an announcement of further investment in apprenticeship funding and for the National Skills Fund to expand the Lifetime Skills Guarantee.
  • An extension of the £3,000 apprentice hiring incentive for employers was confirmed until 31 January 2021.
National minimum wage

The following increases to national minimum and living rates will be made from 1 April 2022:

  • National Living Wage for those over 23 will rise from £8.91 to £9.50.
  • National Minimum Wage for those aged 21 to 22 will rise from £8.36 to £9.18.
  • National Minimum Wage for those aged 18 to 20 will rise from £6.56 to £6.83.
  • National Minimum Wage for those aged under 18 will rise from £4.62 to £4.81.
  • Apprentice Rate will rise from  £4.30 to £4.81.
  • Accommodation offset rate will rise from £8.36 to £8.70.
Company vans and fuel benefits

The van benefit charge and the car and van fuel benefit charge will be increased from 6 April 2022 in line with the consumer price index (CPI).

  • The van benefit charge will increase from £3,500 to £3,600.
  • The car fuel benefit will increase from £24,600 to £25,300.
  • The van fuel benefit charge will increase from £669 to £688.
Public Sector workers

The freeze on pay, introduced in response to the pandemic, is set to be lifted. This means that millions of public sector workers, including nurses, teachers and members of the armed forced are to see their wages rise from next year.

The Government block 'fire and hire' bill

'Fire and rehire' practices have recently been a hot topic and subject to much debate. It is the practice of firing and re-hiring individuals where an employer wishes to make substantial, and sometimes detrimental, changes to an employee's employment contract but the employee does not wish to agree to those changes.

On 8 June 2021, the government stated that it would not (yet!) legislate to prevent this practice and on 22 October 2021, the government blocked a Private Member's Bill, Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill,  which aimed to stop the practice of 'fire and rehire'. Instead the Government asked Acas to prepare more detailed guidance on how and when the practice should be used. Acas has now released that guidance and in doing so their Chief Executive, Susan Clews, has commented that the Acas advice 'is clear that fire and rehire is an extreme step that can seriously damage working relations and has significant legal risks for organisations. Employers should thoroughly explore all other options first and make every effort to reach agreement with staff on any contract changes.'

Whilst, there is currently no legislation to prevent it (this might not always be the case), the current press surrounding these practices means it is far from straightforward and reputational issues may need to be considered on top of legal issues. Please do get in touch if you are considering engaging in 'fire and re-hire' practices. There are many legal considerations, risk and benefits to weigh up, particularly surrounding the exposure to unfair dismissal claims and potentially even unlawful discrimination claims.

Further details on the new right to take carer's leave

After last year's Government consultation concerning the introduction of one week's carers leave to assist those employees who undertake long-term caring responsibilities the government has now published its response as to how this leave/new law will work.

This leave will be available to employees only (not workers) as a day one right. In order to be eligible, the person being cared for needs to have a requirement for long-term care and rely on the carer's relationship (broadly following the definition of "dependant" used in the right to time off for dependants). The long-term need for care is defined as someone with a disability as defined under the Equality Act 2010 or anyone with issues "related to old age".

The leave entitlement is up to one week unpaid per year, which can be taken as individual days, half days or as one entire week. In terms of requesting the leave, the employee must give notice and self-certify their entitlement.

It is not yet clear exactly when this leave will come into force or when it will be put forward as a new law.

ONS 2021 gender pay gap data published

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released its annual data on the gender pay gap between women and men by age, region, full-time and part-time work, and occupation, which it is able to compile from its Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings.

For full-time employees the gender pay gap in April 2021 was 7.9%; it was 7% in April 2020 and 9% in April 2019.

Whilst the figures show an increase in the gender pay gap since last year a word of caution has been provided. The ONS have stated that the data has been impacted by the pandemic. It was more likely that women were placed on furlough, with the subsequent impact to their earnings and therefore the ONS is encouraging us to look at the longer term trend instead – this is showing a continued downward trend.

Further key points stemming from the report can be summarised as follows:

  • There is a large difference in gender pay gap between employees aged 40 years and over and those aged below 40.
  • Higher earners experience a much larger difference in hourly pay between sexes when compared with lower-paid employees.
  • The managers, directors and senior official occupation group has experienced the largest fall in gender pay gap since the pre-pandemic April 2019 figure.
  • The gender pay gap is higher in England rather in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.