Consultations launched on sexual harassment, ill-health at work and labour market enforcement

Over the past few days the Government has launched three new consultations which will run over the summer.

We give a brief overview of each of these consultations below. All of them close in the first week in October.

Sexual Harassment in the workplace

This consultation has been launched in response to last year’s report from the Women and Equalities Select Committee.

Probably the most significant issue it explores is whether a new duty should be imposed on employers which would create additional incentives to focus on the prevention of sexual and other harassment in the workplace. This additional duty would need to dovetail with employers’ existing obligations under the Equality Act, as well the new code of practice on harassment at work which is expected soon from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Other issues the consultation explores include clarifying the law on third party harassment and extending the protection of the Equality Act to volunteers and interns. There is also a discussion about extending the time limit for Equality Act claims.

Ill-health at work

In terms of possible changes in employment law, this consultation has three main strands:

  • Workplace modifications for all: Should a right to request workplace modifications on health grounds be available to all employees, modelled on the right to request flexible working?
  • Strengthening guidance on supporting return to work: The Government is proposing guidance which would “prompt employers to demonstrate that they have taken early, sustained and proportionate action to support employees return to work”. This could be taken into account when assessing the fairness of a dismissal on health grounds, though there are no plans to change the law on unfair dismissal itself.
  • Making SSP more flexible: The Government acknowledges that statutory sick pay does not allow for phased returns to work following sickness. So it is proposing changes to allow employees to receive part pay and part SSP, rather than the current “binary” approach. In addition, it proposes extending eligibility to employees who earn less than the current threshold of £118 per week.

The consultation also has a chapter exploring reform of the occupational health market so that a wider range of employers have access to good quality occupational health advice.

Towards a single enforcement body

The Government is proposing that the new body would assume the enforcement roles of the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate. It would also take over enforcement of the National Minimum Wage from H M Revenue and Customs. No new money would be available for these combined enforcement activities, but the Government hopes that transferring them to a single authority would make more efficient use of existing resources.

In addition, the new authority would assume responsibility for enforcing holiday pay for vulnerable workers, another recommendation of the Good Work Review that the Government has adopted. However it seems that there are no immediate plans to transfer other employment-related enforcement activities to the new authority – for example in relation to the remaining requirements of the Working Time Regulations (currently enforced by the Health and Safety Executive) or statutory sick pay (currently the responsibility of HMRC’s Statutory Payments Dispute Team).

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