Employers unprepared for raft of legislative changes coming into force next month, warns Worknest

Many employers are struggling to be ready for the series of employment law reforms that are set to come into effect on 6th April, with more than 20% of businesses questioned yet to prepare for these coming changes.

This is according to new polling by employment law and HR consultancy firm WorkNest, who asked nearly 300 HR professionals how ready they were for a host of imminent changes to workplace laws. These include new regulations governing leave for carers, the introduction of new maternity and paternity leave protections and reforms to flexible working rights. 

Least prepared for redundancy rights change 

The WorkNest findings show that employers are least prepared for a new law that will enhance redundancy protection for pregnant workers and those taking family leave. 

Employers planning redundancies post 6th April will need to quickly adapt to the change in law, which extends the existing protection for those on maternity leave faced with possible redundancy. From April, this will apply to all expectant employees, from the moment they disclose their pregnancy, until their baby is 18 months old.

38% of respondents revealed that they are unprepared for this new law and a further 37% stated that while they are actively working towards being ready, they aren’t there yet. 

Employers also unprepared for new carers leave law

Employers are similarly unprepared for a new law that will give employees with long-term caring responsibilities the right to a week of unpaid leave. Just nine per cent of those questioned by WorkNest stated that they are fully prepared for this law to come into force. With millions of unpaid carers in the UK, it is very likely that most employers will be impacted by this reform.

Matter of weeks to be ready 

Whilst the majority of these reforms officially come into effect after 6th April, several will apply before this date. For example, a new law that will allow fathers and partners to take their paternity leave as two non-consecutive weeks and give a shorter amount of notice (four weeks) prior to each period of leave, kicks in on the earlier date of 8th March.

Although this will only apply to children whose expected week of birth begins after 6th April, employers might need to act quickly to make adjustments to their workforce planning to deal with such issues. WorkNest’s poll, however, shows that almost one quarter of employers say they are unprepared for this change in law and just under half are ‘somewhat prepared’. 

Facing up to flexibility 

There is a little more readiness for the introduction of the new right for employees to request flexible working from day one of their employment, with just over one in five saying that they are very prepared for this. Flexible working and how this is managed amongst employees continues to be high on HR’s agenda, but there is still a similar percentage (just under one in five) of employers who say they are unprepared.

David Eastwood, Head of Team and Solicitor at WorkNest said:

“The clock is ticking for employers to be ready for this legislation. We haven’t seen anything like this number of changes to employment law for some time, so it is no wonder many employers and HR professionals are struggling to get to grips with it all. Many of these areas of legislation are complex and it can be difficult to know where to begin. We have recently noticed a flurry of calls from employers asking questions about these forthcoming reforms and advice on what they should be doing, so despite the fact that these changes are looming large, it’s clear that not all employers are all set for April.

“For employers that haven’t made a start in preparing for these changes, our advice is to not delay any further as it can take time to adapt. Establish as soon as possible which laws are most likely to affect your employees and set about reviewing your policies, processes, contracts, workforce planning and operational systems as a priority. It is also worth considering things like training for managers, so they are up to speed with the new legislation.

“Of course, with a General Election on the horizon, further changes could be around the corner, and we know that HR professionals are concerned about the prospect of this. We all need to stand ready to deal with whatever might come our way but for the time being, these new laws are on the statute books and so employers must be ready to comply with them or risk potential legal consequences.”