Katy Wedderburn: The year ahead for employment law

Brexit, Trump and celebrity deaths stole the headlines in 2016, and while perhaps not as newsworthy, it was also a busy year in the employment law arena. So what does 2017 hold?

MacRoberts partner Katy Wedderburn examines the legal issues facing employers in the year ahead. Picture: Contributed

Here are some of the key areas that employers and employees alike should be looking out for this year.


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No look ahead to 2017 would be complete without mentioning Brexit.

Much of UK employment law derives from, or is influenced by, EU law and decisions from the EU courts. While it is unlikely that basic rights such as unfair dismissal and family friendly will change, it is also unlikely that employment law will remain entirely unaltered post-Brexit.

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Katy Wedderburn: How will Brexit affect employment law?

Apprenticeship levy

April will see the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, whereby all UK employers with an annual pay bill in excess of £3 million will pay 0.5 per cent of the total figure, irrespective of whether they employ apprentices or not.

National minimum wage

April will also see the national minimum and living wage increase, and the applicable rate for those aged 25 and above will be £7.50. Those aged 21 to 24 will receive £7.05, while 18- to 20-year-olds will be paid £5.60 and those aged 16 and 17 will get £4.05. The rate for apprentices will be £3.50.

Pay for time off work

Statutory sick pay also increases in April, to £89.35, as does statutory maternity pay (and pay for adoption, paternity or shared parental pay), to £140.98.

Gender pay gap reporting

The gender pay gap reporting regulations come into force on 6 April and apply to employers with more than 250 employees (and “employees” is widely defined). MacRoberts will be running training sessions in February in our Glasgow and Edinburgh offices to help businesses prepare for their reporting obligations.

Employment status and the ‘gig economy’

One of the first notable decisions of this year came when the Employment Tribunal found that a City Sprint bicycle courier was a worker and not self-employed, and was therefore entitled to holiday pay and also other wider protections not afforded to the self-employed.

With the Uber taxi decision (despite the contract between Uber and its driver describing them as “self-employed”, the drivers were in fact workers) being appealed this year; and the Pimlico Plumbers appeal (on a similar point) being heard in the English Court of Appeal, employment status and the worker/self-employed distinction is likely the be on the agenda throughout the year.

We are also expecting to hear from the government’s inquiry into the “future world of work and rights of workers” this year, which had a particular focus on the self-employed and those working in the “gig economy”. Employers should review labour contracts to ensure that the appropriate arrangements are in place.

Modern slavery statements

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 applies to “commercial organisations” in the supply of goods and services with a worldwide turnover of at least £36m and places an obligation on these businesses to publish a “modern slavery statement”. These must be published within six months of their financial year end date and so 2017 may be the year for certain organisations’ first statements.

Holiday pay

It is unlikely that we will see 2017 through without any holiday pay news. British Gas, for example, has appealed the recent Court of Appeal decision to the Supreme Court. We will keep a close eye on how affected cases progress.

Working time and rest breaks

At the end of last year the Employment Appeal Tribunal considered the Working Time Regulations 1998 and held, in Grange v Abellio London Ltd, that an employer has a duty to afford a worker the right to a rest break, regardless of whether or not it has been explicitly requested. 2017 may see further cases on the back of this and employers should now review their working arrangements and policies to ensure compliance.

Restrictive covenants

The government’s consultation on non-compete clauses closed in July 2016, and the outcome of this is expected to be published this year.

Industrial action

The implementation of the Trade Union Act 2016 is expected this year, which will bring about various changes to the industrial action rules, including increased balloting thresholds.

Shared parental leave for grandparents

Plans to extend shared parental leave to grandparents are expected to be announced in 2017, but with so much else going on and the low uptake of shared parental leave for parents, this may not be particularly high on the legislative agenda.

Tribunal fees

And finally, what does it cost for employees to enforce these employment rights?

In England and Wales, the Supreme Court will hear Unison’s challenge of the fees regime south of the Border. Meanwhile in Scotland the Government has already committed to removing tribunal fees. Will 2017 be the year that this happens?

With the above being just a few areas to look out for 2017, it looks set to be another busy year in the employment law calendar.

• Katy Wedderburn is an accredited employment law specialist and a partner at MacRoberts