With the General Election looming many business owners are starting to think about how this could impact them, says Kate Palmer.

If Labour win, then the year of change we’ve seen so far will only get busier. The Labour party manifesto lays out over 60 separate proposals for changes to employment law, saying they will introduce legislation within the first 100 days of taking office.

It’s safe to say that with just under six weeks to go until the general election, businesses are in for a busy few months.

One of the most notable changes if Labour win will be changes that would be made to unfair dismissals.

As the law currently stands, employees need to have been with a company for two years in order to bring a claim for unfair dismissal. Labour plans to do away with this qualifying period and give all employees full rights from their first day of employment.

This change could open the door for potentially thousands of new claims being filed with the employment tribunals, clogging up an already two-year average waiting list.

However, it is important to clarify that Labour are not looking to tie employers hands completely. Fair dismissals will still stand under the appropriate circumstances, for example dismissing someone for reasons of capability, conduct or redundancy, and employers will still be able to dismiss employees during the probationary period.

Unjust firing

This new law will specifically be in place to remove unjust reasoning for firing someone which will in turn help drive up standards within the workplace.

Probation periods can sometimes be a grey area when it comes to claims for unfair dismissal. A probationary period is in place to allow both the employee and employer to have some time to see if the arrangement works for each party.

During the probationary period either party can terminate the employment with little to no notice if they no longer feel that the employee / company is the right fit for them.

Employers must ensure that clauses relating to the probation period in their contract are clear and concise, so employees clearly understand how it works. Failure to include information in written contracts about probationary periods will entitle an employee to make a claim to employment tribunal.

The main premise for many of Labour’s laws are in place to provide more protections for employees, including job security and one employment status, rather than the current ‘worker’ and ‘employee’ statuses each bringing different rights. With many people facing insecure work, they have pledged to eradicate exploitative zero-hours contracts and give people the right to a contract which reflects their regular hours.

Regardless of which party wins the general election, employers should be aware of the risks that come from not having clear and concise contracts and policies in place.

Flexible working

Another major proposed change in the Labour manifesto is around flexible working, with a promise to make it the default position, instead of the current right to request – and this one will be music to many employees’ ears.

Employers, however, will be less happy, with many making the move back to full-time in office working over recent months. Others are finding this a difficult line to walk, with employees prioritising flexibility and work/life balance and looking for roles that allow them to work in a remote or hybrid pattern.

Flexible working can encompass many things, not just remote working. Job sharing, different hours, part time work and working location are all included under the umbrella of flexible working.

At many points throughout their manifesto Labour cites ‘one-sided flexibility’, referring to employees being required to make themselves flexible to meet business needs, but employers failing to be flexible around employee wishes. Labour has promised to end this.

Rather than the current stance on flexible working, which gives employees the right to request it but allows employers to refuse the requests if they cannot reasonably implement them, Labour’s plans will make flexible working the default position.

In theory, this doesn’t sound good for employers, although employees will certainly be happy.  But not all occupations can operate remotely or have flexibility. So employers who cannot reasonably implement flexible working will still be able to refuse the requests.

For example, a paramedic cannot work from home and during peak times the NHS may not be able to offer flexibility, especially given the stretch they are facing.

However, for office-based businesses many employees argue that there is no difference between them working at home or in the office. Many businesses are increasingly looking to bring employees back into the office full time, so it will be interesting to see what this new right would look like in practice, and what would be considered a ‘reasonable’ reason for employers looking to have their employees work in person.

With the sheer volume of changes that Labour are proposing, it is very ambitious to say that legislation will be introduced within the first 100 days of taking office. Although that doesn’t mean the full laws will come into effect, it does mean drafting the Acts and Regulations for each change, as well as carrying out appropriate consultation periods which, in themselves, generally last around 6 weeks. What this will look like in reality, remains to be seen

Businesses should prepare for all eventualities and know what major legislative changes are being floated by all parties. For now, we wait and see what will happen on 4 July.





Kate Palmer is HR Advice and Consultancy Director at global employment law consultancy, Peninsula.
Kate joined in 2009 from a worldwide facility services company where she was Senior HR Manager. Her exploits included providing HR & employment law support to over 30 UK hospitals and dealing with high profile NHS union cases—expertise she now brings to Peninsula clients.
Today, Kate is involved in all aspects of HR and employment law advice.