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Annie Hayes

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New laws trigger HR warning

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An international law firm is advising employers to be mindful of forthcoming legal developments expected to shake up current HR practices.

Eversheds’ employment specialists have identified eight of the most significant employment law issues for 2008:

1. Equal pay
One of the main issues, particularly for public sector employers in local authorities and the NHS, will be equal pay claims. In the months ahead, it is likely to take hold in other parts of the public sector and, in due course, in the private sector. While the tribunal system creaks under the weight of tens of thousands of equal pay claims, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is calling for radical changes to the law.

2. Equality Bill
The government will be revealing details of its plans for the biggest shake-up in UK discrimination legislation for decades. The Equality Bill promises to trigger a lively debate on a number of contentious issues.

3. Corporate Manslaughter
On 6 April 2008, the long-awaited Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act will come into force. As a result, it is more important than ever that employers put health and safety measures at the top of their agendas in order to keep abreast of good practice.

4. Dispute Resolution
Less than four years after its introduction, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform plans to abolish the legislation that was supposed to encourage employers and workers to settle their differences without resorting to litigation. The Employment Bill proposes new guidance from ACAS, which is expected to place a greater focus on mediation as a means of resolving workplace disputes.

5. Information and Consultation
The Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations will apply to organisations employing 50 or more employees from 6 April 2008, introducing new rights for employees to be informed about developments in the workplace on an ongoing basis.

6. Age discrimination – Heyday
The ongoing Heyday challenge has left uncertainty surrounding laws on age discrimination in relation to retirement. Under the banner of its off-shoot, Heyday, Age Concern has challenged the way in which age discrimination laws have been implemented in the UK, arguing that a default retirement age is unlawful. There will be further developments in this case this year, though if the current timetable for the case is adhered to we cannot expect the law to be clarified until well into 2009.

7. Agency Workers Directive
There now appears to be the political will in Europe and pressure from the TUC to revive plans for legislation giving greater rights to agency workers. The draft directive will spark strong debate in 2008.

8. Illegal Workers
From 29 February 2008, there will be new penalties (criminal and civil) for employers who take on illegal workers. Employers of migrant workers whose right to work in the UK is not permanent will also have a new responsibility to make periodic checks on existing workers’ entitlement to work in the UK, rather than simply checking status once before employment begins.

Martin Warren, head of employment law at Eversheds, said: “These new legislative developments should act as a wake-up call to employers, and businesses need to be confident that their policies and procedures stand up to scrutiny if they face a potential claim. It is also important to bear in mind that when challenged it is often the employer who carries the burden of proving there has been no discrimination.”

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Annie Hayes

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