How Legal Are Your Employees?

There’s a lot more to running a business than ‘doing business’. You have to spend time looking after your staff too! And that involves understanding all the legal implications of recruiting, retaining and releasing staff. The law changes on a regular basis, so you really need to know what’s going on, in order to keep on the right side of the law.

Because you’re busy doing what you do, in this blog we’ll bring you a summary of some of the recent legal changes that you need to know about. We discussed them all at our Employment Law Update workshop in May. If you have any questions about particular issues and how they relate to your employees, please do get in touch. We’ll run another workshop in the autumn.

March 2015: Companions – from March this year, changes have been made to the right to be accompanied in disciplinary meetings. Employees now have the right to choose any fellow employee, and employers must agree to this choice. The employee must think about the practicalities of their choice and can change their mind at any time. The request to be accompanied does not have to be in writing, but employees must give their employer time to make the necessary arrangements for the meeting.

April 2015: Parental Leave – before this year, parental leave was 18 weeks before the 5th birthday of the child. This has been extended to 18 weeks before the 18th birthday. The right to parental leave is an employee’s right to be absent from work for the purpose of caring for a child for whom he or she has parental responsibility. Parents can use it to spend more time with their children and achieve a better balance between their work and family life. The time is unpaid and employees must have completed one year’s service with the company to be eligible.

April 2015: Shared Parental Leave – this is a new right enabling mothers, fathers, partners and adopters to choose how to share time off work after their child is born or placed. It applies to children born on or after 5 April 2015 and must be taken by the child’s 1st birthday. The basic rate of pay is £139.58 per week.

This leave does not replace maternity leave, statutory maternity pay or the maternity allowance and is optional to parents. It allows the mother to end her maternity leave early and allow the father to take leave instead. It does not replace the father’s paid ordinary paternity leave.

Adopters and surrogate parents have the same rights as others. A mother can share her leave with the child’s father, her husband, partner or civil partner, a partner living in an enduring family relationship, but not with grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, aunts or uncles, nieces or nephews.

Click here to see a calculator that can help you work out the numbers and for more eligibility.

Holiday Pay Calculations – in a recent case, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that a week’s pay, when calculating holiday pay, must include overtime that employees are required to work, even if the employer is not contractually obliged to offer a minimum number of overtime hours.

The government has introduced the Deduction from Wages (Limitation) Regulations 2014, which limits any potential back claims for holiday pay to two years for claims made from 1 July 2015. Arrears are limited to claims in the last three months.

The following now need to be included in calculating holiday pay: compulsory overtime, semi-voluntary overtime, commission and supplements for on call and anti social hours. It applies to the first four weeks of holiday only.

There are more details here in one of our blogs.

Keep reading our blogs for news on more employment law changes that will be coming in later this year.

How to Handle Bank Holidays

Employers run the risk of a holiday ‘giveaway’ if they don’t check their employee contracts when it comes to annual leave.

Some employees are set to gain additional annual leave due to the days on which the Easter bank holidays fall this year, next year and in 2017. The wording in some employees’ contracts could land employers with an unanticipated liability for paying additional holiday, as a result of variations in Easter dates.

The issue will affect employers that operate an annual leave year that runs from 1 April to 31 March, and that set out their employees’ paid annual leave entitlement using wording along the lines of “20 days’ holiday plus bank holidays”.

Under working time rules, employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ annual leave, or 28 days’ leave per year for employees working a five-day week. The 28 days can include bank holidays, of which there are usually eight per year.

The way in which the 2015 Easter break fell meant that, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there were bank holidays on 3 and 6 April. In 2016, the bank holidays are earlier: Good Friday on 25 March and Easter Monday on 28 March. However, in 2017, Easter is later, with Good Friday falling on 14 April and Easter Monday on 17 April.

This means that two Easter breaks fall within a holiday year running from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016: the Easter break that fell early in April 2015, and the Easter break falling in late March 2016. Affected employees will gain from two additional bank holidays (on top of the usual eight) for the leave year.

Failure to honour a contractual clause providing for “20 days’ holiday plus bank holidays” will result in the employer being in breach of contract, regardless of the fact that there are more than the usual number of bank holidays.

For a holiday year running 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017, employees would appear to lose out. There is no Easter break during the whole of the annual leave year, meaning that they will be entitled under their contract to just 26 days’ leave.

As an employer you should not rely on a bonus in holiday entitlement from one leave year to be ‘evened up’ by giving employees less than the statutory minimum in the next leave year. The 28-day entitlement is a statutory minimum and you cannot negotiate out of it, other than by an agreement with your employees to carry forward up to eight days’ holiday into the following leave year.

If you’re not sure what you need to do to avoid being in breach of your employee contracts, contact me on 0118 940 3032 or email and we’ll help you work out the numbers.

Holiday Commission Payments – The Verdict

Finally we have the decision about the calculation of commission payments.

This well publicised case was brought by Mr Lock, an employee of British Gas. He was paid a basic salary and commission based on the sales he made which represented, on average, over 60% of his take home pay.

British Gas paid holiday pay to Mr Lock based on his basic salary only, plus commission on sales he had earned prior to the holiday period. This resulted, in the weeks and months after the period of leave, in times when Mr Lock only received basic salary and not commission. This was because Mr Lock was not at work during the period of leave, did not make sales and did not generate any commission.

Mr Lock brought a claim against British Gas contending that his holiday pay should be based on basic salary and average commission.

The employment tribunal asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) whether employers should include commission when calculating holiday pay and both decided that Mr Lock should be paid holiday pay including overtime. Since the ECJ we have been awaiting for the employment tribunal to see how to give effect to the ECJ decision.

At the hearing Leicester employment tribunal made it clear that the case was not about whether the commission received by Mr Lock should be included because the ECJ had already decided that it should. The case was about whether the Working Time Regulations could be interpreted to give effect to the ECJ decision.

The employment tribunal concluded that it could by adding wording to the Working Time Regulations which requires employers with workers who have normal working hours but who receive commission or similar payments to calculate holiday pay as if their pay varied with the amount of work done. The effect is to require employers to calculate holiday pay based on an average of the previous 12 weeks’ pay.

The Next Steps

Not all commission payments will qualify and have to be taken into account. You should reconsider how you calculate holiday pay if you operate a similar commission scheme, as you may face a claim for back pay. Legislation was introduced to limit the impact of such claims by restricting back pay for two years for cases on or after 1 July 2015.

This decision relates only to the calculation of four week’s holiday and not the entire current statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks or any enhanced holiday. You should also check any contractual provisions. If you need any help calculating holiday pay for your employees, call us on 0118 940 3032 or click here to email us.