Neil Buck: What do the main political party manifestos mean for employers?

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This Thursday the general election takes place. Depending on who wins, it could lead to a few big repercussions for employers. So, I thought I would summarise the main employment law content of the three main political parties’ manifestos.

I have made a few comments about some of the bigger potential effects of some promises but they serve only as my opinion and not intended to sway you either way!

1. Labour’s manifesto slogan of ‘For the Many, Not the Few’ is reflected in its 20-point plan on workers’ rights. Corbyn has pledged to replace the Great Repeal Bill with the EU Rights and Protections Bill, safeguarding workers’ rights derived from the EU.

A few key points are:

  • Abolish tribunal fees – a potential negative for employers for obvious reasons – the number of claims would no doubt increase
  • Make all employment rights active from ‘day one’, and extend them to workers
  • Abolish zero-hours contracts, suggesting all employees must be given at least some guaranteed work each week – for the usual sectors that use workers in this way e.g. retail, tourism, agriculture etc this could be a game changer and their modus operandi could have to change
  • Legislate to ensure all employers recruiting workers from abroad do not undercut British workers
  • Repeal of the Trade Union Act
  • A living wage for all of at least £10 by 2020 for all workers aged over 18 – a biggie, cost wise
  • No more unpaid internships
  • Double the amount of paid paternity leave
  • Gender pay auditing compliance
  • Right to trade union representation for all workers
  • Four new public holidays to mark all four national patron saints’ days, additional to statutory holiday entitlement – this could be problematic for obvious reasons e.g. cost, lost production etc

2. The Lib Dems seek to ‘Change Britain’s Future’ to achieve a sustainable economy by introducing the following key policies:

  • Abolish tribunal fees – their main big change would have implications as stated above
  • Extend the Equality Act to all large companies of 250 or more employees and require them to introduce pay gap reporting in relation to gender, race and sexual orientation
  • Enforce name-blind recruitment in the public sector
  • Tackle the abuse of zero-hours contracts
  • Make the right to flexible working, paternity and shared parental leave rights from day one of employment – this could be very costly
  • Additional month’s paternity leave for fathers

3. The Tories launched their ‘Forward Together’ manifesto, and there were no huge surprises there either.

May wants to reflect the changing economy by implementing the following key policies:

  • Executive pay packages subject to annual shareholder votes
  • National living wage would continue to increase to 60% of median earnings by 2020 (around £8.75)
  • Continue to extend pensions auto-enrolment to small employers and make it available for the self-employed
  • The right to request unpaid time off to care for sick relatives – with our ageing population the number of requests could increase and be costly
  • People working in the gig-economy will be protected – although it does not say how this will be achieved or what those protections are
  • Workers’ rights conferred on British citizens from our membership of the EU will remain

Prior to dissolution, the Government’s White Paper on Brexit promised that employment law would remain untouched – although it was far less clear about how the courts would go about interpreting laws e.g. the Working Time Regulations – that were introduced to implement EU directives.

So, they are the main employment law changes and proposals that I think most employers would like to know about before weighing up their decision. Interesting times ahead, no matter what.

Of course, politics will be one of the main topics of conversation this week between your staff. It can be a sensitive subject, fraught with emotion and strong opinions, so it makes sense to know exactly how you can, and should, deal with any issues that might arise. The following serves as a useful reminder…

1. Harassment

You should be aware of the risk of politically motivated harassment. Take a no-nonsense approach on this, and make sure that you’re creating a positive and inclusive workplace. Use your grievance procedure and take disciplinary action against the offender if it happens.

2. Political Campaigning in work time

First of all, you should be aware that you do have the right to ban political campaigning in the workplace. So, if someone is using work time to drum up interest for their party, or print off marketing collateral for the election, then you would have the right to deal with this using your disciplinary procedures. Realistically though, it’s not possible to effectively ban any talk of politics, and it wouldn’t be a wise move anyway. Having staff who are interested and engaged with current affairs can indeed have many other benefits.

3. Political Symbols being displayed

Generally, you can enforce appropriate standards of dress in the workplace, including prohibiting items displaying support for a political party. Employees who are prevented from displaying a political symbol (for example, on a T-shirt, poster or badge) might argue that they are being discriminated against because of their “philosophical beliefs”. However, you can be reassured that discrimination claims under the Equality Act based on “philosophical beliefs” are notoriously difficult to win.

4. Political Activity at Work Policy?

If you really do have a politically active and vocal workforce you could always introduce a policy that tackles political activity at work. The policy could potentially ban the expression of political views to clients, customers, and suppliers, as well as displaying political symbols amongst other things. May be overkill though for most smaller employers.