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Employment law roundup

publication date: Jan 9, 2007
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The time is rapidly approaching when mothers-to-be can expect to receive enhanced maternity pay, which comes into effect for births expected on or after 1st April 2007. The earliest that maternity leave can start is eleven weeks before the expected week of childbirth so expectant mothers will soon start being entitled to SMP under the new arrangements.

Whilst the periods of Ordinary Maternity Leave and Additional Maternity Leave remain unchanged, the period of entitlement to SMP is increased to 39 weeks, i.e. 6 weeks at 90% of full pay (or at the current rate of SMP whichever is the greater), followed by 33 weeks at the current rate of SMP (or 90% of full pay, whichever is the lesser).

Employers are often unsure about the employee’s status during Maternity Leave and, in particular, what level of contact may be maintained. The amendment to the Maternity legislation addresses this issue. With effect from all births due on or after 1st April, there will be a mutual entitlement to remain in contact during Maternity Leave. In particular, employers will be expected to keep the employee informed about changes that take place during her absence, e.g. changes in the business, pay rises and any job opportunities or possibilities of promotion that occur.

Employees are also entitled to work for up to ten days during the Maternity Pay period without losing entitlement to Maternity Pay in order to keep up to date. These days may be used for maintaining the employee’s skills and knowledge, for example, by attending training courses or being trained on new equipment, processes and procedures.

If a woman wishes to return early from Maternity Leave, she will be required to give 8 weeks’ notice of that intention.

Statutory Dismissal & Grievance Procedures

Whilst the original intentions of the statutory minimum procedures seemed to have some validity, the practical application has caused problems ever since the Procedures were introduced in October 2004 and have caused confusion and anxiety, especially for smaller employers. In our view, this has probably led to more employers taking steps to avoid the procedures than before, which was hardly the intention. We were pleased to hear that Alistair Darling remarked to the DTI Select Committee that the rules had become too complex and that the DTI should not be too proud to admit if it had got it wrong first time. We have no doubt that they got it wrong and we are therefore encouraged to learn that the DTI has begun a review of the Statutory Procedures and we hope that we can look forward to substantial amendments and much simplification.

Compensation limits

The annual increase from 1st February will raise the amount of a week’s pay for such purposes as Statutory Redundancy Pay to £310. The maximum compensatory award at Tribunal for ordinary unfair dismissal will be capped at £60,600.

This information is supplied by Shaw Personnel Services

Employees driving on business

Ignorance & complacency pose a risk to company directors from their duty of care

Only 64% of Fleet Managers are conversant with the requirements of the duty of care – Norwich Union – Supply Management Sept 2006.

The mass exit from company cars to employees’ own vehicles(in an attempt to save money) may, in many cases, not have been properly thought through. Company vehicles give employers more control of the type and maintenance of the vehicle. The employer now has to ensure that not only is the employee safe to drive but the employees vehicle is suitable for purpose and safe to be used on the road. There is a widespread belief that by stating in the employee handbook that employees should insure their vehicle for business and service their vehicles properly, that this absolves the employer from their responsibilities. This is not true and in the event of a fatal accident could have serious consequences for the Company and the Directors.

Companies which have lease vehicles on fully maintained contracts are not immune either. There is a mistaken belief that the leasing company takes care of everything. This may be the case, however companies should not assume that this is the case without carefully checking. The employer must still have processes in place to ensure vehicles are being serviced on time and that any recommended future repairs, such as changing the tyres happen on time. Without a pro-active, mileage based monitoring and actioning system, problems are likely to occur.

Companies should ask themselves the following questions and if the answer to any of them is no they should take professional advice urgently.

  • Do you have a written policy signed by all staff?
  • Do you check documents, driving licences, insurance certificates on a regular basis?
  • Do you check employees maintenance records – service, tyres etc ?
  • Do you have processes to check that vehicles are being serviced when they should be?
  • Do you carry out driver training/assessments for new staff or after accidents?

The processes which they put in place musts be proactive and able to provide an audit trail if required by the authorities. They must all cover all use of vehicles (including employees own vehicles) even for the most occasional use such as going on a course. Instructing employees to insure and maintain their vehicles is NOT good enough. Those employing ‘self employed’ staff also have responsibilities as well. If the employee works for only one employer and in reality is a member of staff the duty is much greater than those who work for multiple employers.

Companies which fail to take their responsibilities seriously could easily find themselves not only having to contend with the HSE and the Police but also the effects of negative publicity which could be far more costly. There are solutions which can help to manage these issues, however it requires a commitment from senior management within companies to take these issues seriously and deal with them.

Information supplied by Fleet Safe: The information in this report is for general guidance only and is not a substitute for taking professional advice.