Prepare for the flexible working and pensions enrolment double whammy
This year businesses will need to get to grips with a number of employment law changes.
The most significant of these is the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees. At the moment only parents with children under 17 or who are carers have this right and many practices will have employees who have changed their working hours, particularly women returning from maternity leave.
The government has announced that any employee will be able to request flexible working hours with effect from April 6 and it seems likely that there will be a substantial number of individuals who will take advantage of this right.
Currently there is a statutory procedure for employers to consider requests, but this is being replaced by a duty to consider all requests in a reasonable manner. Practices do have the right to refuse requests on business grounds but employers will need to show that they have considered requests reasonably.
Agreeing to flexible working requests may well allow practices to hold on to staff that would otherwise leave and can result in a more motivated workforce, but clearly it has implications for the operation of the business and employers need to balance the two when assessing applications.
Just over the horizon in April 2015 is the planned introduction of shared parental leave which will allow fathers to share up to 50 weeks of leave with their partner after the birth of a child so businesses will need to get used to dealing with a more flexible workforce.
Pensions auto enrolment
By the end of 2014 most larger practices, those with 50 employees or more, will have been through pensions auto enrolment.
This will require the practice to set up a pension scheme, to deduct and pay over employee contributions from salaries and to make an minimum employer contribution.
The initial minimum employer contribution is 1%, rising over time to 3% by 2018 so this is a significant cost for practices given that wages are by far their largest costs.
On top of this, however, the administrative burden should not be underestimated and most will need to allow six months to prepare for the introduction of auto enrolment, particularly if you do not already have a staff pension scheme.
The first step in the process is to find out your staging date, which is the date when you need to start auto enrolling your employees. This should have been sent to you by post but if not, a tool is available on the pensions regulator website www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk.
Every practice should be aware of its staging date and should seek advice well in advance.