Without wanting to wish September away, I think it is timely to remind employers of imminent obligations from 01 October 2015.

To summarise, these are the issues that employers need to be aware of, discussed in more detail below:

  • National Minimum Wage increases
  • Human Trafficking and Slavery Statements
  • Smoking in cars
  • Limits to the powers of Employment Tribunals
  • Turban-wearing Sikhs and health and safety

The National Minimum Wage

This applies UK-wide.

For Pay Reference Periods that start on or after 01 October 2015, the National Minimum Wage rates increase as follows:

  • the adult rate will increase by 20 pence to £6.70 per hour
  • the rate for 18 to 20 year olds will increase by 17 pence to £5.30 per hour
  • the rate for 16 to 17 year olds will increase by 8 pence to £3.87 per hour
  • the apprentice rate will increase by 57 pence to £3.30 per hour
  • the accommodation offset will increase by 27 pence to £5.35

Human Trafficking and Slavery Statements

This applies UK-wide.

Section 54 in Part 6 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 comes into force on 01 October 2015.  Broadly, Section 54 places an obligation on commercial organisations to prepare a ‘slavery and human trafficking statement’ each financial year outlining either:

  • the steps an organisation has taken in the financial year to ensure slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its own business or any of its supply chains, or
  • that no steps have been taken

Either way, there is an obligation to produce a statement.

Section 54 states that the statement may include the following information:

  • the organisation’s structure, its business and its supply chains;
  • its policies in relation to slavery and human trafficking;
  • its due diligence processes in relation to slavery and human trafficking in its business and supply chains;
  • the parts of its business and supply chains where there is a risk of slavery and human trafficking taking place, and the steps it has taken to assess and manage that risk;
  • its effectiveness in ensuring that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its business or supply chains, measured against such performance indicators as it considers appropriate;
  • the training about slavery and human trafficking available to its staff.

All commercial organisations carrying on business in the UK with a total turnover of £36million or more will be required to complete the statement.  Expect commencement regulations in the near future that should confirm the £36m threshold and set a date for the publication of the statements.

In any event, employers will want to make sure that they are prepared and ensure that no slavery or human trafficking exists anywhere in the business or its supply chains.

Smoking in Cars

This applies in England only.  It is a devolved issue and Wales and Northern Ireland already have a similar legislation in place and Scotland is in the process of legislating for it at the moment.

Part 5, section 95 of the Children and Families Act 2014 comes into force on 01 October 2015.  This amends the Health Act 2006, however, its impact is limited to England only.  Section 95 is entitled ‘Smoking in a private vehicle’ and is all under the Part 5 heading ‘Welfare of Children’.  Simply, drivers of private vehicles will be banned from smoking in them if they are carrying a passenger that is under 18 years of age.

Legislation is already in place that says company vehicles must be smoke-free – unless the primary use of the vehicle is for private purposes.  Now, from 01 October 2015, that legislation is amended to say that there must be no smoking in any vehicle (company or private) if there is someone under 18 also in the car.

The Health Act 2006 defines smoking as ‘smoking tobacco or anything which contains tobacco or smoking any other substance’.  It also goes on to say that smoking only applies if it is ‘lit’.  It stands to reason, therefore, that an unlit cigarette or substance etc is absolutely fine to have in the car with people under the age of 18.  It is the actual act of lighting that gives rise to the legal definition of smoking.  The Act says nothing about electronic cigarettes or vaping, so these are fine also – fundamentally, these are not lit.

Penalties are chargeable on either the driver or ‘any person with management responsibilities for the vehicle’ – i.e. an employer.  As potential ‘responsible persons’, employers will want to look at their smoking policies and consider how these need to be amended in light of the new legislation – remember, employees driving for business purposes can drive in private vehicles as well as company ones.

Limiting Powers of the Employment Tribunal

This applies in Great Britain only, as it affects the Equality Act 2010 (which does not apply in Northern Ireland).

Currently, if a discrimination case is upheld, the Equality Act allows an Employment Tribunal to make recommendations that an employer should take to reduce the effect of discrimination on any person in the workplace.  Simply, from 01 October 2015 a Tribunal will no longer have this power.  They will only be allowed to make recommendations aimed at reducing the impact of discrimination on the claimant that bought the case.

Turban-Wearing Sikhs and Health and Safety

This applies UK-wide, as the 2015 Act makes changes to both the Employment Act 1989 in Great Britain and the Employment (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1990 in Northern Ireland.

From 01 October 2015, the current exemption for turban-wearing Sikhs from wearing a safety helmet on construction sites has been extended.  The exemption now applies to the wearing of safety helmets in workplaces, not just construction sites.

However, the exemption does not apply where the Sikh is working or training to work in a role that involves providing any level or urgent response to things such as fire or hazardous situations.  Further, the exemption does not apply if the individual is taking part in any form of military operation for Her Majesty’s Forces.

Plenty for employers to think about I think!

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