4-point check list for small businesses

October is here and with it comes employment law changes. Here's our check list of the issues most likely to impact your small business. Read on to find out more about what’s changed in the law this month, and what you, as a small business owner, need to do in order to ensure compliance.

Name three things that you associate with October in the UK. The flurry of autumn leaves? The eternal debate about whether it is too early to put the heating on? Or is it the announcement of new employment law changes? For most small business owners, life is pretty hectic, and with so many roles to fulfil (from Managing Director, to Head of Marketing, right down to Chief Coffee Runner), and so much time and energy invested in looking after your clients, it can be easy to spend too little time with your ‘employer’ hat on. If and when you have time and energy left for any bedtime reading, the chances are that trawling through endless updates on new employment law won’t be top of your reading list, so we've summarised it for you.

1) National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Regulations 2015

Crucial information for every small business – here are the facts you need to know. The NMW rates have increased (with effect from 1st October 2015) as follows. Have you amended your payroll and budgets accordingly?

  • Adult rate (workers aged 21 and over) increased to £6.70 per hour
  • Youth development rate (18 to 20 year olds) increased to £5.30 per hour
  • Young workers rate (16 and 17 year olds above compulsory school age) increased to £3.87 per hour
  • Apprentice rate (applicable to all apprentices in year one of their apprenticeships, and all 16 to 18 year old apprentices in any year of their apprenticeship) increased to £3.30 per hour.  Thereafter, apprentices are entitled to the full NMW rate.
  • Accommodation offset limit increased to £5.35 per day

Note that tips, gratuities and service charges are excluded from all of the above figures. 

2) Fit For Work scheme

What is it?

Fit For Work is a government-funded service providing occupational health assessments on referral from the employee’s GP or the employer, where an employee has been, or is likely to be off work for at least four weeks. This is a service designed in particular to aid smaller businesses with little or no access to occupational health services. The service also provides advice to employers, employees and GPs on all issues relating to health and well being at work.

How does it work?

Where an employee is referred to the service (by their GP or by their employer), a Fit For Work advisor or case manager is assigned to them, and will carry out an occupational health assessment (often by telephone).  This will then give rise to a ‘return to work’ plan, which is shared with the employer and/or GP, and gives recommendations on steps to help the individual return to work. The case manager remains in contact with the employee through the duration of the return to work plan, to ensure that it remains relevant and on track, and that no amendments are required. When a return to work plan is available, it acts as a substitute for the GP ‘Fit Note’, and therefore constitutes satisfactory evidence of sickness absence, for the purposes of the employer.

Who is eligible to use it?

Anyone who meets the main criteria; an employee of the company (living in England, Wales or Scotland), who has been absent from work for four weeks or more, with a reasonable likelihood of returning to work within three months. And finally, the individual must not have undergone a Fit For Work assessment within the past twelve months, and have received a return to work plan as a result of that assessment.

Can employees be forced to attend a Fit For Work assessment?

No.  Employee consent is required before a referral to the Fit For Work service can be made, and at various other stages in the process, too.  Namely, prior to the initial assessment, prior to the disclosure of return to work plans (originals and amendments) to the GP or the employer, and prior to the service making contact either with the GP, the employer, or any other third parties as a necessary part of the assessment.

Are employers obliged to use the Fit For Work service and/or follow advice given?

No – employers are neither obliged to use the service, nor legally bound by the advice provided in the return to work plans.  However, employers are advised to tread carefully in cases where sickness absence could be linked with a disability, and ensure that any rejection of return to work advice does not constitute a failure to make reasonable adjustments, according to the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) requirements.

3) Ban on smoking in cars

Under The Smoke-free (Private Vehicles) Regulations 2015, smoking is now banned in private vehicles carrying a child under 18 years of age. Consider revising/reviewing your policies (if applicable) on smoking and company cars, in particular where company cars are also used by employees for family/private use.

4) Sikh safety helmet exemption

From 1st October 2015, Sikhs may elect to wear a turban instead of a safety helmet in warehouses, factories and vehicles involved in transportation. A few exemptions apply. However, this highlights the importance of raising awareness of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and ensuring a thorough understanding throughout the business regarding religious discrimination, as well as health and safety legislation. 

Do you need professional HR advice?

If you have any concerns or are still unclear as to whether these changes affect your small business, please seek professional advice.  Here at Business Clan, our qualified HR professionals provide a full range of consultancy and advisory services.  If you need help, contact us or give us a call now on 033 0133 0543.

Naomi Scoffham, HR Consultant