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Paula Kathrens

Employment Law Partner, Blake Morgan

Keeping up to date with employment law, new cases and best practice can be challenging for employers, regardless of size or sector. However, it’s crucial for effective management and workforce planning. Lawyers and in-house lawyers have a key role in this regard, as Paula Kathrens, Blake Morgan, explains.

Many in-house lawyers will be responsible for making changes to relevant policies, so it is essential that they are alert to implementation dates and that they prepare any guidance for employers and staff in good time.

Being prepared means knowing about future developments and their practical implications. So, what’s on the horizon, and what employment trends can we expect?

Changes to family-friendly rights

Extensive changes to the statutory right to request flexible working are expected in the summer of 2024. Employees will be able to make two requests in each 12-month period rather than one, and employers will be required to consult before rejecting a request. The employer’s response period will be reduced to two months from the current three months.

Significantly, the right to request flexible working is expected to become a ‘day one’ right, whereas currently, an employee needs 26 weeks of continuous service to be eligible. Accordingly, any Flexible Working policy must be reviewed and amended to reflect these significant legislative changes. Employers can also expect an increase in flexible working requests and must carefully consider how to manage these, especially if they cannot accommodate a request.

There will also be a new entitlement to carers’ leave. This will be one week’s unpaid leave in any rolling 12-month period (pro-rated for part-time employees).

This will be a ‘day one’ right, and implementation will not be before April 2024. The new right will impact any current Carers’ policy and the statutory right to take time off for family emergencies.

Neonatal care leave

Although not imminent, there will be a new right to up to 12 weeks of paid neonatal care leave. This change is expected to come into force in April 2025. Neonatal care is medical or palliative care within four weeks of the child’s birth. The right to leave will be a “day one” right, but the employee must have a minimum of 26 weeks of service to receive neonatal care pay, which will be at a prescribed rate. This new right means many employers will need a new Neonatal care and pay policy.

Finally, there will be extended redundancy protection for pregnant women and new parents, but there is no implementation date yet. This change will impact current Maternity, Adoption and Shared Parental Leave policies.

Employment trends

Increasing use of AI in HR functions – from recruitment to performance management -is inevitable. For example, AI allows for analytics to identify patterns, trends and areas for improvement.

If used effectively, AI should mean managers have more time to develop better relationships with staff, improve communication skills or concentrate on other priorities such as staff engagement.

For some jobs, AI can collect data, store it in one place and extract insights from real-time analysis. AI could also identify areas for learning and development and could remove any human bias that may otherwise exist. However, employers must be aware of the potential legal risks of using AI, including discrimination claims, a breakdown of mutual trust and confidence, and data protection concerns. You can reduce these risks by preparing an AI Workplace policy covering issues such as the permitted uses of AI for business purposes and guidelines for use.

There is unlikely to be any slowdown in the level of media interest in the menopause, and we can expect to see more Employment Tribunal claims of this nature. However, employers should think more broadly about menstruation and menstrual health. The new British Standard published by the BSI will help employers adopt best practices while providing employees with a reference standard.

Employers should be proactive, and once again, lawyers and in-house lawyers can assist by preparing the appropriate policies to cover menstrual health and the menopause. They can also prepare guidance on what adjustments could be made in different workforces and job roles.

With all of these changes, preparation, as so often, is crucial. But there is one looming uncertainty that lawyers and in-house lawyers can’t prepare for just yet. This is the general election date and which political party will form the next Government. We know from recent announcements that if elected, the Labour party will introduce an Employment Rights Bill within the first 100 days, creating new, ‘day one’ employment rights and repealing some of the trade union legislation introduced by the current government.

Paula Kathrens

Employment Law Partner, Blake Morgan

Paula is an Employment Law Partner at Blake Morgan LLP, based in the law firm’s Cardiff office. For her profile, click here.