January is generally a quiet month in employment law and so it proved in 2016, with the headlines including warnings about the possibility of personal liability for a failure to collectively consult and the somewhat dry topic of the Supreme Court's new approach to penalty clauses in contracts. A couple of stories that were set to run and run also kicked off - junior doctors cancelled a planned strike and it was reported that Sports Direct staff were to be paid above the national minimum wage.
In February junior doctors announced three more days of strikes as the Government announced new contracts would be imposed on them. In our E-bulletin we looked at the controversial issue of zero hours contracts and whether they were as bad as was being suggested. But the big news was that Mr Lock, in his claim against British Gas, had succeeded in persuading the EAT that holiday pay should include an element for the amount of commission he would receive when working. Meanwhile Unison were granted permission to appeal the Court of Appeal's decision that tribunal fees were not unlawful to the Supreme Court.
The draft Gender Pay Reporting Regulations were published in March with the intention that they would be implemented in October this year, with a first reporting date of April 2018. While implementation has now been delayed to Spring 2017, the first reporting date may well be unaffected. It is hoped that the requirement to publish differences in pay between men and women will assist in closing the gender pay gap.
April was, as always, a busy month for employment law. On top of Jeremy Hunt having legal action taken against him by junior doctors, the Living Wage took effect (meaning workers aged 25 and over must be paid £7.20 per hour), the annual tribunal compensation limit increase took effect, financial penalties for non payment of tribunal awards were introduced and new rules relating to postponements of tribunal hearings took effect. However, the much publicised Repayment of Public Sector Exit Payments Regulations (requiring public sector staff to repay termination payments if they returned to work in the public sector a short period of time after leaving) did not take effect as had been originally planned.
While AGMs in Britain focussed on executive pay and the disapproval of workers, in Germany a sausage fight broke out at Daimler's AGM when one shareholder became upset about how many sausages a fellow share holder was attempting to sneak home. Even approving a dividend of 3.25 Euro per share failed to distract the pair from their squabble.
In May, the Trade Union Bill received Royal Assent and became the Trade Union Act 2016. Key provisions in the Act include a requirement for at least 50% turnout in votes for industrial action in certain public services, including in the health, education, transport, border security and fire sectors; setting a 6 month time limit (which can be increased to 9 months if the union and employer agree) for industrial action so that mandates are always recent; and requiring a clearer description of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action on the ballot paper, so that all union members are clear what they are voting for. The first sections of the Act came into force on 1 November and 5 December 2016. This includes section 3 which enables the Secretary of State to specify what are the "important public services" that will require 40% support in industrial action ballots; section 4 which allows for a review of electronic balloting; and section 11 which enables the Secretary of State to make regulations allowing for a transitional period for opting in by union members to contribute to political funds. Further provisions will be brought into force in due course.
As we headed towards the Olympics, sport took over the employment law headlines with Shane Sutton quitting his role as technical director for British Cycling amid allegations of sexist and discriminatory remarks being made, Jonas Gutierrez winning a disability discrimination claim against Newcastle United and Novak Djokovic being slated for his remarks about men and women's prize money in tennis.
Mike Ashley's period of high profile, negative PR started in June as he gave evidence to a BIS committee following an investigation that found Sports Direct warehouse workers were being paid less than the minimum wage. However, the country's attention was distracted by the Brexit referendum. Many people were surprised to wake up on 24 June to find that the UK had voted to leave the EU. Since then the implications of this decision for employment law and almost every other aspect of life has been written about and commented on. But as of December 2016 it is still unclear exactly when it will happen.
Meanwhile it was reported that 1 in 20 employers were allowing staff time off to look after sick or newly homed pets - paw-ternity leave was born!