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The biggest employment law developments of 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, it's a good moment to look back at some of the more significant changes in employment legislation over the year.

Working parents

Shared Parental Leave promised to be one of the biggest shake-ups to how working parents go about balancing their caring and career responsibilities in future.

The new rules allow couples to share maternity or adoption leave and pay for children due to be born or adopted from 5 April 2015.

Parents are now able to share a 50-week 'pot' of leave, and can decide to be off work at the same time or take turns, or a combination of both. Blocks of leave can be taken continuously between partners or in discontinuous chunks.

April 5 saw the introduction of two other developments in this area. Statutory Adoption leave and pay was brought in line with maternity leave and pay. Adoption leave became a day-one right, and new rights were granted for adopting parents to take paid leave for adoption appointments.

And Parental Leave was extended to parents of any child under the age of 18, where previously it applied to children aged under 5, unless the child had a disability or was adopted. The unpaid leave can now be taken any time before any child's 18th birthday, subject to continuous service and notice requirements.

Pay

The close of 2014 saw a number of rulings about Calculating holiday pay for overtime. The outcome was that both guaranteed and normal non-guaranteed overtime should count towards accruing annual leave. Commission payments must be factored into calculating holiday pay and claims for holiday pay from backdated wages have become capped at two years. Strictly speaking, these decisions only apply to the four weeks of annual leave required under EU law, but employers can apply it to all annual leave where that is preferable.

The year also saw increases in statutory maternity pay, ordinary paternity pay and adoption pay, as well as the standard rate of statutory sick pay.

The National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage also increased, while plans were laid for a new National Living Wage in April 2016. Rules were also beefed up to discourage non-compliance, with a maximum £20,000 penalty for underpayment per worker, rather than per group of workers.

Zero Hours contracts

The Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill was enacted in March 2015. Among its many provisions was one preventing the use of exclusivity clauses on so-called Zero hours contracts, which have previously been used to prohibit individuals from working under other arrangements or without an employer's consent.

The Act contains many other provisions that are still to come into force, including company reporting on gender pay gap figures, reporting on whistleblowing disclosures, and increased penalties for employers who are slow to make employment tribunal award payments.

Fit for Work

The Fit for Work scheme was launched in England and Wales this year, allowing employers to refer employees who have been or are likely to be off work for four weeks or more for a free and confidential consultation with occupational health professionals.

GPs had already been able to refer employed patients for a voluntary occupational health assessment, but the development has enabled employers to make referrals too.

Acas publications and services

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