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2011: THE HR Round up

written 06 January 2011

2011 saw a number of changes to Employment Law directly affecting – and yet to affect -businesses across NI.

So what better time to bring some clarity to the changes that have come into force and highlight some of the most commonly asked queries and misunderstandings by employers in 2011.

1.    Phase out of Default Retirement Age
2.    Additional Paternity Leave and pay for babies born on and after 3 April 2011
3.    Agency Workers Regulations 1 October 2011
4.    Qualifying Period for unfair dismissal to increase to 2 years from 1 April 2012
5.    Contracts of Employment
6.    National minimum wage increases to £6.08 per hour 1 October 2011
7.    Major Reform announced in 2011

Phase out of Default Retirement Age

The phasing out of the default retirement age (DFA) of 65 and the accompanying statutory retirement procedure came into force on 1 October 2011.  
This meant that 5 April 2011 was the last day on which notice of intended retirement could be issued and 12 January 2012 will be the last day on which an employee, issued with 12 months notice of retirement on the last named date, can make a request to continue working beyond retirement.  Therefore, the last day on which a notice or retirement, extended by 6 months with the employers agreement, can take effect, will be 5 October 2012.
If an employer wishes to retain a default retirement age, you will have to justify this objectively and this needs to be supported by evidence, and costs alone may not suffice.  
Employers must make sure that they review all contracts and handbooks to ensure that any reference to a Default Retirement Age has been removed and refer to the Statutory Retirement Procedure.

Additional Paternity Leave and pay for babies born on and after 3 April 2011.

This came into force on 6 April 2010.  The new right applies where the mother ends her maternity leave early effectively allowing the father to take the remainder of that leave – and up to three months will be paid at the statutory rate and three months unpaid.

Agency Workers Regulations

The Agency Workers Regulations came into force on 1 October 2011.  The regulations provide all agency workers the right to equal treatment in respect of basic employment and working conditions in comparison to those directly recruited to the business after 12 weeks of employment in the same job with the same employer.  

Qualifying Period for unfair dismissal to increase to 2 years from 1 April 2012
At the Conservative Party’s annual conference in October 2011, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the qualifying period for unfair dismissal will be increased from one year to two years with effect from 1 April 2012.

Contracts of Employment

A common mistake is that employers believe that they are not required to issue employees with a contract of employment.  However employers should be aware that failure to provide a contract of employment to your employee within eight weeks of commencement gives rise to an automatic claim by an employee where they could be awarded up to a maximum of four weeks pay.
Legislation dictates that an employee is entitled to a written statement of their main terms and conditions of employment.  Key information must be included within this statement along with the procedure which the employer will observe before and for the purpose of dismissing the employee.

National minimum wage increases to £6.08 per hour 1 October 2011

The main rate of the national minimum wage rises from £5.93 to £6.08 per hour.  The development rate increases from £4.92 to £4.98 per hour.  The rate for workers aged 16 to 17 from £3.64 to £3.68 per hour, and the apprentice rate from £2.50 to £2.60 per hour.  REMEMBER to check and amend all employees and temporary workers rates

Major Reform announced in 2011

After many months of rumour, Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced the government's proposals for what is claimed to be the biggest shakeup of employment law for decades.  The aims of the reform are "to safeguard workers’ rights, while deregulating to reduce the onerous and unnecessary demands on businesses."  Read here for more information on the changes announced.

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