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Top 10 Employment Law Changes

The top 10 landmark employment law changes over the past 10 years

We’re continuing our theme of top 10s to celebrate our 10 years in business.  This time we’ve come up with a top 10 of notable employment law changes.  As we all know, employment law is constantly changing and when we looked back, we found that there have been some quite ‘iconic’ changes in recent years.   

1. Default retirement age (DRA) abolished 2011

The DRA of 65 was abolished in 2011 which left employers being able to only retain a compulsory retirement age if it can be objectively justified.  At the time there were concerns that this may lead to claims that employers would use other means such as performance grounds to dismiss older workers.  Although there have been some notable cases including Dove v Brown & Newirth Ltd, there doesn’t seem to have been the flood that some feared.

2. Shareholder control over directors pay 2013

Executive pay and organisational performance were the drivers for new legislation on directors’ remuneration and rewards in 2013, which gave shareholders powers to vote on pay, rewards and termination payments.  Companies have also been required since then, to publish figures each year on how much they pay their senior executives, including any compensation payments.  Listed companies were also required to start publishing data on gender balance on the board, greenhouse gas emissions and human rights information. 

3. Modern Slavery Act 2015

Designed to combat modern slavery in the UK, the Modern Slavery Act 2015, was a landmark piece of UK legislation focusing on the prevention and prosecution of modern slavery and the protection of its victims. 

At the time, it was estimated that over 20 million people were trapped in some form of forced labour in a wide range of industries from agriculture, beauty, hospitality and fishing supporting a huge criminal industry.

From 2015 businesses with a turnover of £36m or more have been required to publish an annual slavery and trafficking statement on its website setting out the steps they have taken to ensure there is no slavery in any part of its business, including its supply chain.

It may have improved the transparency, but has it been successful?  Reviews suggest that although the Act has increased awareness, enforcement of it is weak or even non-existent.  One analysis of it in 2019 found that only 23% of companies were meeting the minimum requirements

4. Shared parental leave

In April 2015, new rights for parents to share parental leave came into effect.  From this point on, up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay can be shared between parents.  Whilst very welcome to new parents, giving them much more choice and flexibility in juggling work and childcare in the first year after the arrival of a new baby, employers at the time expressed concern over the burden it would put on business.   We feel that it was a really important step in changing assumptions that the mother should do the bulk of childcare and recognised that dads play a vitally important role too.

5. National living wage

The national living wage of £7.20 /hour first came into effect on 1 April 2016 for people aged 25 or over.  It is being extended to those from age 23 from 1 April 2021 giving some a 9% pay rise. 

National wage under-payment is still an issue and those companies who breach the rules are named and shamed.  Be careful to follow the advice from the Department for BEIS otherwise run the risk of having to pay arrears and financial penalties.

6. Gender pay gap reporting

In April 2017 it became compulsory for organisations with more than 250 employees to publish details of their gender pay gap and gender bonus gap. It involves reporting on six key metrics including the difference between mean and median pay, bonus payments and the proportion of men and women in each pay band.

Research in 2017 found that four in ten women had experienced some form of sexual behaviour in the workplace and around one in nine mothers were either dismissed, made redundant or felt they had to leave their job.

Gender pay gap reporting brings transparency and focus on the issues of gender equality and gives organisations the opportunity to review the reasons for a gap and identify the action they need to take to address them.

7. GDPR

In May 2018, the introduction of the new General Data Protection Regulation changed the way we work forever, more specifically it changed the way a business collects, stores and uses customer and employee data.  Its introduction brought major implications across many areas of a company – IT, marketing and HR in particular and businesses have had to review processes, applications and forms to be compliant with double opt-in rules and email marketing best practice.

With fines of up to 4% of global revenue, and examples of companies being fined, including British Airways and Marriott International, it is something the EU took very seriously.

8. Employment status – Uber v Aslam

Over the last 10 years there have been a few high-profile cases of companies operating in the so-called gig economy, who have been found to have been ‘disguising’ workers who are self-employed workers but who are in fact entitled to basic worker rights.

One of the most high-profile cases was Uber v Aslam.  The case began in 2016 with two Uber drivers – James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, who brought their case before an employment tribunal as they believed that they should be considered workers rather than self-employed.

After a long-running case, the Supreme Court ruled that the drivers were indeed workers – a landmark judgement that will have significant implications for the gig economy.  It means the 45,000 Uber drivers are entitled to basic rights including paid holiday, rest breaks and the national minimum wage.  Businesses operating with gig-workers must now accept the burden of the extra costs or rethink the way they employ workers.

There have been similar high-profile cases of worker status including Dewhurst v City Sprint and Pimlico Plumbers v Smith.

9. Equal pay

The UKs largest ever equal pay claim against a private employer reached the Supreme Court in July 2020.  The long-running equal pay claim between Asda and its shop-floor staff started in 2016 with 21 claimants and ended at the Supreme Court with a group 38,000 strong.

Its outcome could have a potentially huge impact on similar group action claims.

Asda shop floor workers, most of whom are women, claim they should be paid the same wages as distribution centre staff, who are mostly men and receive a higher hourly rate. Judges had already ruled in favour of the employees at a tribunal hearing and then by Court of Appeal judges.

The crux of the issue is to determine whether Asda supermarket staff, who are nearly all women, should be paid equally to distribution staff in the depot, who are predominantly, and historically, men.  It is 50 years since the Equal Pay Act 1970 when men and women have been entitled to equal pay for equal work whether in the same role or in role of equal value.  This judgment could well and truly open the floodgates for more mass action on equal pay.

10. Child abuse laws

Bringing us right up to date is some news this week that child abuse laws are to be extended in England and Wales. 

Sports coaches and faith leaders who have sexual relationships with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care will be breaking the law under new legislation planned for England and Wales.  This change in the law puts them on par with roles like teachers and social workers. 

It reminded us that last year the EHRC issued new guidance on sexual harassment at work emphasising that employees must be able to come to work knowing they will be safe and protected from discrimination, victimisation and harassment of any kind.  The ‘Me Too’ movement seems to have woken some employers up to their responsibilities in preventing sexual harassment at work but there is still work to be done.  


If you have enjoyed this article and would like to be kept updated on Employment Law issues please subscribe to our monthly newsletter. Please do not hesitate to contact us on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk

SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and litigation practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide. Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here. 

Latest posts by Samira Cakali (see all)
Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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