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Employment Law Update | February 2020

Welcome to the latest edition of our monthly employment law update. We keep track of the latest employment law changes so you don't have to!

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised below, please don't hesitate to contact Liz Henry or James Austin

Can ethical veganism be a protected characteristic?

Last year an employment tribunal heard a claim that being vegetarian should be considered a protected characteristic on the basis that it is a philosophical belief. In order to qualify as a philosophical belief the belief must satisfy a number of criteria including:

  • Being genuinely held
  • A belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • Attaining a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • Having a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.

The judge determined that being a vegetarian was not a protected characteristic because it was a lifestyle choice and reasons for being a vegetarian can differ widely. The decision was only at tribunal level so is not binding, but within the judgment it was also suggested that there may be a different outcome for vegans.

Earlier this year another employment tribunal decided that ethical veganism is a protected characteristic. Ethical vegans eat a plant based diet but also try to avoid contact with clothing made of wool or leather and try not to use products tested on animals. It was clear in this case (Casamitjana Costa v The League Against Cruel Sports) that the claimant sought to avoid interaction with any animal products. The judge ruled that ethical veganism is a protected characteristic because it satisfies the tests set out above.

The case has received a lot of publicity but it's worth noting that:

  • Again this is only a tribunal decision so is not binding
  • The claimant's adherence to a vegan lifestyle may go further than most.

Parental bereavement leave to become law

As of 6 April 2020 employees who lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, will be entitled to 2 weeks' statutory leave, to be taken in one block or as two separate blocks of a week. Employees with at least 26 weeks' service, who meet minimum earnings criteria, will also qualify for Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (at the same rate as Statutory Paternity Pay).

Do you understand whether you can process personal data relating to criminal convictions?

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is conducting a survey to find out if data controllers (e.g. employers) understand the complex legal framework in this area. We suspect the answer is generally predictable but if you would like to let the ICO know your view you can answer the survey up until 28 February and can find it here

Is a four day working week possible?

Research published by Citrix has revealed that 55% of employees' working hours are closer to that of a six-day week than a four-day week.

65% of the employees interviewed believed that a shift to a four-day week would be "unachievable" as it would require a workplace culture shift.

How much will minimum wage increase to in April?

From 1 April 2020 the hourly rates of national living wage and national minimum wage will be:

  • The NLW for workers aged 25 and over will increase from ¬£8.21 to ¬£8.72 per hour.
  • The NMW for 21 to 24-year-olds will increase from ¬£7.70 to ¬£8.20 per hour.
  • The NMW for 18 to 20-year-olds will increase from ¬£6.15 to ¬£6.45 per hour.
  • The NMW for 16 to 17-year-olds will increase from ¬£4.35 to ¬£4.55 per hour.
  • The apprentice rate for those under the age of 19, or in the first year of an apprenticeship, will increase from ¬£3.90 to ¬£4.15 per hour.

From 1 April 2020, the accommodation offset will also increase from £7.55 to £8.20 each day.

How much will statutory maternity pay, SSP etc increase to in April?

The following rates are expected to apply from April 2020:

  • The weekly rate of statutory sick pay (SSP) will be ¬£95.85 (up from ¬£94.25).
  • The weekly rate of statutory maternity pay (SMP) and maternity allowance will be ¬£151.20 (up from ¬£148.68).
  • The weekly rate of statutory paternity pay (SPP) will be ¬£151.20 (up from ¬£148.68).
  • The weekly rate of statutory shared parental pay (ShPP) will be ¬£151.20 (up from ¬£148.68).
  • The weekly rate of statutory adoption pay (SAP) will be ¬£151.20 (up from ¬£148.68).

The increase normally occurs on the first Sunday in April, which would be 5 April 2020.

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