- By Teni Shahiean of OTS Solicitors
As 2015 draws to a close, we have taken the liberty of evaluating employment law developments over the course of the year so you can see how they will affect your business, and the steps you may need to take to remain compliant with employment law regulations in 2016.
2015 saw many important employment law decisions being delivered, both from the UK Courts and the European Court of Justice. The Government has also been busy, passing legislation that will have a major effect on the way employers run their business.
One case which made major waves in 2015 was Federación de Servicios Privados del sindicato Comisiones Obreras v Tyco Integrated Security SL, Tyco Integrated Fire & Security Corporation Servicios SA decided in the European Court of Justice.
The ECJ held in this decision that mobile workers, such as sales representatives, travelling to and from their first and last appointment of the day, are entitled to count such travel as ‘working time’. In the judgment, the ECJ stated that because the workers are “at the employer’s disposal” for the time of the journeys, they act under their employer’s instruction and cannot use that time freely to pursue their own interests.
Under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (which incorporate the European Working Time Directive), employers cannot demand an employee work more than 48 hours in a week. This decision could see many companies in breach of the Regulations, for example, if an employee’s first appointment is many miles away and travelling to and from the destination increases his or her working week to over 48 hours. In order to remain compliant with the Regulations, changes may need to be made to employees’ schedules, for example, making first appointments closer to home.
Another ECJ decision ((Lock v British Gas Trading Ltd) hit the headlines this year and caused fear and panic amongst employers. In May, following a request for clarification from the Employment Tribunal, the ECJ ruled that that the holiday pay of workers whose salary comprises a regular commission should include a sum that reflects an average of that commission. The Confederation of British Industry called this decision the 'the single biggest employment issue for businesses' and called on the Government to 'vigorously defend' existing UK law.
British Gas has appealed the decision.
Duty to Make Reasonable Adjustments for employees
In Griffiths v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Court of Appeal had to decide whether an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee is capable of applying to an attendance management policy. In a decision that effectively overrules Royal Bank of Scotland v Ashton  ICR 632, the Appeal Judges held that where an employee’s disability leads to a level of absence which a non-disabled employee is unlikely to have, the rules of an attendance management policy will put the disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage. The question is then whether it is reasonable for the employer to adjust the rules of the policy in the particular circumstances.
Following this case, employers need to consider adjustments (and their reasonableness) in cases of lengthy absence where disability is likely to be an issue.
Civil Partner’s Pensions
In the case of Walker v Innospec, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by a member of a pension scheme whose same-sex spouse would receive a survivor's pension of around £500 a year if the member died, rather than a pension of around £41,000 if that member had been married to a woman.
The reason this situation occurred is the law relating to pensions, and same-sex partners changed at the end of 2005. Mr Walker had stopped being part of his pension scheme in 2003, so, irrespective of later changes to the law, his rights were determined at the time that he left the scheme as the legislation was not made retrospective.
The Court of Appeal refused to grant leave to Mr Walker leave to the ECJ.
Changes to Watch Out For in 2016/17
The National Living Wage
In April 2016, the compulsory National Living Wage will be introduced for all working people aged 25 and over, and will be set at £7.20 per hour.
Tax-Free Allowance Threshold Raised
From 6th April 2016, the tax-free threshold will be raised to £11,000 and the higher tax threshold will be changed to £43,000.
In 2016, (date to be confirmed), employers will be required to publish whether or not there are differences in pay given to men and women within the organisation.
Tax-free childcare scheme
Families where both parents work and each earns less that £150,000 per year will be eligible to receive 20% of their yearly childcare costs of up to £2,000 for each child or £4,000 if the child is disabled.
Employment law is constantly in flux and employers need to ensure they are compliant with relevant case law and legislation to avoid time-consuming legal action. Based in City of London, our expert team of Solicitors are committed to delivering the best results for our employment and immigration clients. If you wish to receive legal advice on any of the points raised in this article, please phone our London office on 0207 936 9960 to make an appointment.
Posted on: Monday, 21 December, 2015