There is also the potential of a general election to consider, which could fundamentally change government employment law policies.
These changes apply to a wide range of areas, including flexible working, protection from sexual harassment, TUPE transfer and holiday entitlement.
In this article, we set out the key dates and developments that employers and HR practitioners should be aware of in 2024.
Pregnancy, family leave and protection from redundancy
Under existing laws, if an employer plans to make an employee on maternity, adoption or shared parental leave redundant, the employer is obligated to offer them any suitable alternative employment options as a priority over other employees that may also be impacted by the redundancy proposals.
New laws, scheduled to be in force from 6 April 2024, will extend this protection to cover pregnancy and also for an 18-month period from when the relevant form of family leave is taken.
- Pregnancy - Redundancy protection will start when an employee tells their employer about their pregnancy. If the employee is entitled to statutory maternity leave, the protected period of pregnancy will end on the day the statutory maternity leave starts. If the pregnancy ends and they are not entitled to statutory maternity leave, the protected period ends two weeks after the end of pregnancy.
- Maternity - The additional protected period will end 18 months after the expected week of childbirth unless the employee has informed the employer of the date of their child's birth, in which case the additional protected period will end 18 months after that date.
- Adoption - The additional protected period ends 18 months after the child's placement or the date they enter Great Britain (in the case of overseas adoptions).
- Shared Parental Leave - or those taking six or more consecutive weeks of shared parental leave but who have not taken maternity or adoption leave, the additional protected period ends 18 months after the date of the child's birth or placement (or date they enter Great Britain).
In relation to the protected period of pregnancy, these changes are due to come into effect where the employee notifies the employer of the pregnancy on or after 6 April 2024.
In relation to the additional protected period after a return to work, the changes will come into effect where the employee's statutory maternity or adoption leave period ends on or after 6 April 2024.
The changes will apply to shared parental leave periods of six or more consecutive weeks that commence on or after 6 April 2024.
If employers fail to offer suitable alternative employment (where other roles and opportunities exist) to a protected employee, they risk liability for costly and reputationally damaging claims, such as discrimination and automatic unfair dismissal claims.
In light of these changes, employers will need to carefully consider potential vacancies for protected employees in redundancy situations, as well as checking that their family-related policies are up-to-date.
Flexible Working Requests
On 6 April 2024, a number of changes relating to an employee's right to file a flexible working request will come into force.
The changes are an important expansion of existing rights:
- Employees will have a day-one right to make a flexible working request (as opposed to the current requirement to have one year's service first).
- Employees will be entitled to make two requests in any 12-month period (an increase from the current limit of one).
- Employees will no longer need to explain the effect they think the requested changes may have on their employer's business.
- Employers will have a legal duty to consult with their staff about their requests and make a decision about any request within two months of receiving it (reducing the current response time of three months).
The new rules will be set out in a new Acas Code of Practice, which comes into force alongside the new regulations in April 2024.
The other existing aspects of the flexible working request regime will remain the same.
The most important of which is, for employers at least, that the regime only gives an employee the right to request flexible working.
An employer is not obligated to accept requests, and provided they have met the new obligation to consult with the employee first, requests can be refused where they cannot reasonably be accommodated.
However, employers will need to ensure that their HR teams are prepared to deal with requests from new starters and are ready for a potential increase in the volume of requests received across 2024.
Paternity leave – new flexibility from April
Currently, new fathers can take up to two weeks of paid statutory paternity leave upon the birth of the child.
The leave is required to be taken within eight weeks of the birth and must be spent in a single, consecutive period of either a week or two weeks.
New regulations will give a new father the option of splitting their two-week leave entitlement into two blocks of one week.
They are also only required to give 28 days notice of their intention to use paternity leave (reduced from the current requirement to give notice 15 weeks before the birth).
The new rules will apply to babies due to be born after 6 April 2024 and in respect of children due to be adopted on or after 6 April 2024.
Leave for unpaid carers
New regulations introduce a right for employees who have a dependant with long-term care needs to receive one week's unpaid care leave in each 12-month rolling period.
Eligible employees will be entitled to this right from the first day of their employment.
The leave may be taken in half days or full days or in an entire block of one week.
Employers cannot decline a request altogether but may postpone the leave by up to a month under specific conditions. The new right will take effect from 6 April 2024.
Like all forms of statutory leave, employees are protected from any detriment or dismissal they might suffer for having taken or having requested to take a carer's leave (if an employer believes they are likely to do so).
Employers should ensure that they either update existing policies or create a new policy to reflect this right.
The new legislation will introduce the following additions to the existing Equality Act 2010 from October 2024:
- Introduce a legal duty on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent the sexual harassment of their employees.
- Employment tribunals will have the power to uplift sexual harassment compensation by up to 25% if an employer is found to have breached the new duty.
A new statutory code of practice on sexual harassment is also expected to be rolled out before the new proactive duty comes into effect.
Employers should consider reviewing their policies and training resources in this area as October 2024 approaches.
Holidays and working time
New regulations that came into force on 1 January 2024 introduced various changes to existing rules on working time and holidays. This includes:
- Existing rules on when employees must be allowed to carry over holidays from one holiday year to the next, currently derived from case law, have been codified in the new regulations.
- Incorporating the EU-derived concept of "normal remuneration" for holiday pay calculations, which has more generous calculations for earnings such as commission and regular overtime.
- Repealing the COVID-19 holiday carry-over rules, with a small transitional period to enable any accrued leave to be used.
In addition, the following changes for irregular-hours workers and part-year workers will come into force from 1 April 2024 (for leave years starting on or after 1 April 2024):
- A new method of holiday accrual based on 12.07% of their working time in the previous pay period. For those workers absent on sick or other family-related leave, the holiday will accrue using their average working hours in a 52-week reference period.
- Employers will be permitted to pay rolled-up holiday pay.
We will cover these changes further in future articles.
New amendments to TUPE regulations aim to streamline the existing process of a TUPE transfer for small businesses.
The new rules will remove the obligation to elect employee representatives for:
- Businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
- Businesses of any size where the transfer in question involves fewer than ten employees.
Tips, gratuities and service charges
As of 1 July 2024, employers are required to pass on 100% of tips to staff. Businesses will not be allowed to deduct from these tips, save for those required under tax laws.
A draft code practice was released in December 2023, explaining the new rules in more detail.
A consultation on the draft code is open until 22 February 2024.
This should allow businesses in industries that use tips to adapt to the rules and better understand how they can fairly and openly allocate qualifying tips.
Legislation that awaits an implementation date
Predictable working patterns for workers
The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act 2023 is expected to come into force at some point in and around September 2024.
It introduces a new statutory right for eligible workers to request a more predictable working pattern from their employers.
The right will apply to zero-hour workers, agency workers, employees and those on fixed-term contracts lasting less than one year.
There are many similarities to the existing statutory flexible working request regime.
For example, up to two requests may be made in a 12-month period, and there are specified statutory grounds on which an employer may reasonably refuse a request.
Where a complaint process has not been followed by the employer, workers will be able to make claims for breaches of the statutory regime, as well as for unlawful detriment where they have been mistreated as a result of having made a request.
In addition, employees dismissed for having made such a request will be able to bring automatic unfair dismissal claims.
Neonatal care leave and pay
New legislation that has already had royal assent is expected to come into force in April 2025.
This will introduce a statutory right for parents of newborn babies who are hospitalised in their first 28 days of life for seven days or more to take neonatal leave and pay for up to 12 weeks.
The entitled must be taken within 68 weeks of birth.
Fire and rehire
On 30 March 2022, following mass redundancies announced by P&O Ferries via video, without consultation or notice, the government announced that a new statutory Code of Practice to address "fire and rehire" practices would be introduced.
The draft code of practice on Dismissal and Re-engagement was published for consultation in January 2023. The government's response to the consultation and the final version of the code of practice are due to be released in Spring 2024.
Due to the volume of changes expected in 2024, employers must consider which changes will specifically impact their workforce and how these changes can be implemented in practice.
It is also important for employers to be aware of the forthcoming general election, which is expected to be held this year.
If Labour is elected, the party has pledged to make significant changes to employment law, including the implementation of an Employment Bill within the first 100 days of entering office.
For further information on Labour's proposed reforms, please see Labour's Plans for Sweeping Employment Law Changes.