Key employment law updates | July 2022

Neonatal care leave bill

The Government has announced that it is backing a new law to provide additional paid leave to parents whose babies require specialist care after birth. The new law will provide additional paid leave for parents whose babies require neonatal care after birth.

The new Bill will allow parents to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave, in addition to other leave entitlement such as maternity/paternity leave, so that they can spend more time with their baby.

This leave will be available to employees from their first day in a new job (subject to the parents meeting certain conditions regarding minimum earnings and continuity of service) and will apply to parents of babies admitted into hospital up to the age of 28 days, and who have a continuous stay in hospital for 7 full days or more.

This Bill has not yet passed through the House of Lords nor final stages leading to Royal Assent and it is not clear at what point this will pass, however, it is worth noting as this will likely impact on any leave policies currently in force once it has been passed into law.

Risk assessments for pregnancy – recent changes

Recently, the Health & Safety Executive updated its guidance and introduced a new requirement for businesses to carry out an individual risk assessment when a worker informs them in writing that they are pregnant, breastfeeding or have given birth in the last six months.

The HSE guidance confirms that employers should:

  • Review their existing general risk management and controls.
  • Talk to the worker to understand whether there are any specific circumstances related to their pregnancy which may affect their work.
  • Discuss any concerns with the worker.
  • Consult with their safety representation or trade union (if applicable).

The risk assessment must be regularly reviewed as the worker's pregnancy progresses and/or if there are significant changes to the individual's working activities or workplace.

While many employers will already be completing individual risk assessments, as they were not previously required, employers should familiarise themselves with the HSE requirements and update their processes accordingly to ensure compliance.

Calls for limits on workplace temperatures

The Government has been called by MPs to introduce legislation to ensure employers maintain a reasonable temperature in the workplace. Currently, there is no legal temperature required but the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 requires employers to ensure that temperatures in all workplaces inside buildings are reasonable. There is an Approved Code of Practice that limits minimum temperatures to 16 degrees (13 if the work requires strong physical effort) but there is no maximum limit.

MPs are calling to enforce a maximum of 30 degrees Celsius (27 for workers undertaking strenuous work) and require employers to introduce effective control measures, such as ventilation. In light of the recent heatwave, this may be encouraged, however, whether it is addressed legally remains to be seen given the variation in workplace temperatures (e.g., a foundry or glass works vs. an office). Employers should bear in mind employee safety when working in extreme temperatures and take the necessary safety measures and undertake risk assessments to ensure compliance with current law but also act in a sensible manner to protect your workforce.

Sensible suggestions would be to allow staff to dress appropriately for the weather (perhaps removing any formal dress code) and providing fans. Allowing flexible working times in the cooler periods of the day is also a good suggestion to manage the workforce during a heatwave. Do remember you are legally required to consider the risks of pregnant women in your workplace as part of your general health and safety risk assessment (and anyone who notifies you in writing that they are pregnant, breastfeeding or gave birth in the last 6 months). Reasonable adjustments may need to be made to accommodate the risks to these staff during very hot or cold periods, until the risk is reduced.

Menopause Government Response

The government response on menopause and the workplace is out and confirms that menopause will not be allocated as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 in its own right.

New law now in place to allow businesses to hire agency workers to plug strike staffing gaps

A new law has come into force, enabling businesses to use agency worker to fill staffing gaps caused by industrial strike action.

Industrial action across various sectors is currently threatening to disrupt crucial public services, so the Government appears to have worked at speed to repeal trade union laws restricting businesses from providing temporary agency staff. The hope is that this amendment will enable public services to continue to operate in a manner that doesn’t threaten vital public services.

Bill of Rights – significant change to the UK framework

The Government introduced the Bill of Rights Bill on 22 June 2022. This Bill seeks to reform the law relating to human rights by repealing and replacing the Human Rights Act 1998. The Bill will make clear that the UK Supreme Court is the ultimate judicial decision-maker on human rights issues and that European Court of Human Rights case law does not always need to be followed by UK courts.

The intention of the Bill is to ensure the courts cannot interpret laws in ways that were never intended by Parliament. It is meant to empower people to express their views freely but also prevent trivial human rights claims from wasting judges' time and taxpayer money.