Employment and pensions

Employment Law Coffee Break | Review of whistleblowing framework, April changes, international employment challenges and our HR Pensions Spotlight for March

Published on 30th Mar 2023

Welcome to our latest Coffee Break in which we look at the latest legal and practical developments impacting employers

Government announces review of whistleblowing framework

The government has announced a review of the UK whistleblowing framework that "will gather evidence on the effectiveness of the current regime in enabling workers to speak up about wrongdoing and protect those who do so" – it is seeking views and evidence from "whistleblowers, key charities, employers and regulators".

Recognising the importance of an effective whistleblowing regime, the business minister, Kevin Hollinrake, has stated "whistleblowing is a vital tool in tackling economic crime and unsafe working conditions" – something particularly highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic which saw a rise in whistleblowing disclosures recorded by the Care Quality Commission and the Health and Safety Executive – and the review "will take stock of whether the whistleblowing framework is operating effectively and protects those who call out wrongdoing in the workplace".

The review will cover central topics including:

  • who is covered by whistleblowing protections;
  • the availability of information and guidance for whistleblowing purposes – both on the government website and that provided by employers; and
  • how employers and prescribed persons respond to whistleblowing disclosures, including best practice.

Core research questions that will be raised are:

  • How has the whistleblowing framework facilitated disclosures?
  • How has the whistleblowing framework protected workers?
  • Is whistleblowing information available and accessible for workers, employers, prescribed persons and others?
  • What have been the wider benefits and impacts of the whistleblowing framework, on employers, prescribed persons and others?
  • What does best practice look like in responding to disclosures?

The review will also examine evidence related to the definition of worker for whistleblowing protection.

The review comes against the backdrop of the EU Whistleblowing Directive, which was due for implementation across EU Member States by December 2021, although a number of jurisdictions are still putting their domestic legislation in place.

It also comes on the back of existing calls for the UK rules (first introduced in 1998, but which have been subject to some revisions since then) to be reviewed with proposed reforms introduced recently into Parliament by way of private members' bills.

We are currently advising businesses across our international practice on updating their internal whistleblowing policies and procedures in light of the EU Whistleblowing Directive and applicable local laws. It is also important to remember that whistleblowing practices need to be compliant with applicable data protection laws.

The evidence-gathering stage of the review will conclude in autumn 2023.View the full terms of reference for the review.

Employment challenges for international businesses 

Last Tuesday we hosted our international employment law conference where a team of Osborne Clarke international lawyers discussed the evolving employment law landscape, identifying common trends for employers operating across jurisdictions, including new laws focused around remote working, the hurdles faced by employers in attracting and retaining talent and legislative initiatives to support employees at work. Now more than ever, it is critical for businesses to stay abreast of developments across the jurisdictions in which they operate in order to navigate the increasingly changing working landscape, particularly as the EU and the UK begin to diverge on employment law issues.

Our international team provides support and advice for organisations managing their workforce across jurisdictions against the backdrop of this changing landscape. If you missed the event, please do contact us or your usual Osborne Clarke contact for a recording and you can read our highlights.

Our international immigration team has also produced an interactive flyer looking at the issues raised when employees request to work from abroad on a permanent basis or as an extension to their holidays. 

Explore your interactive flyer >

Changes to rates and limits this April

We set out below a reminder of the new rates and limits which will apply to UK employers from this April, including new Vento bands on injury to feeling awards, new annual tribunal limits for dismissal, statutory rates for family leave and new minimum pay rates.

New Vento bands on injury to feeling awards

The Vento bands which apply to employment tribunal awards for injury to feelings in respect of cases presented on or after 6 April 2023 have been adjusted to take account of the Retail Prices Index measure of inflation:

  • A lower band of £1,100 to £11,200 for less serious cases.
  • A middle band of £11,200 to £33,700 for cases which do not merit an award in the upper band.
  • An upper band of £33,700 to £56,200 for the most serious cases.
  • Amounts in excess of £56,200 can be awarded in the most exceptional cases.

Please be aware that additional considerations apply in Scotland.

Annual tribunal limit increase

The new annual tribunal limits for dismissals taking effect from 6 April 2023 are as follows:

  • a week's pay for the unfair dismissal basic award and statutory redundancy pay rises to £643 (from £571); and
  • the unfair dismissal compensatory award rises to £105,707 (from £93,878), subject to the maximum cap of 52 weeks' pay.
Statutory rates for family leave

The new rates for statutory maternity, paternity, adoption, shared parental and parental bereavement pay will increase to £172.48 per week (from £156.66 per week) from 2 April 2023.

Statutory sick pay will increase to £109.40 per week (from £99.35 per week) from 6 April 2023.

New minimum pay rates

From 1 April 2023 the statutory National Living Wage for those aged 23 and over will increase by 9.7% to £10.42 an hour and the following national minimum wage rates will apply:

HR Pensions Spotlight for March: What does the budget mean for your employees?

The government announced a number of important changes to pension taxation in the recent budget, in particular to the Lifetime and Annual Allowances. 

These changes should make it easier for members to save and help to simplify some pensions projects where fixed and enhanced protection have traditionally been a barrier or raised additional considerations.

For pension scheme trustees and employers, the changes raise a number of practical points and questions. Trustees and employers need to agree with their advisers what they can and will say to employees and scheme members, and what action (if any) they might like to take in relation to contributions or pending retirements. They need to consider how the changes affect any policies in place for higher earners/employees with long service periods and the rules of their pension arrangements. They also need to be ready for questions from members.

Questions they might expect to see include:

  • whether members who have already completed retirement forms to draw benefits this tax year, but have not actually received payment of any benefits yet, will be allowed to defer taking their benefits until after 6 April 2023 so as not to trigger a LTA tax charge (that is, has a "benefit crystallisation event" already taken place?)?
  • whether pensionable pay can be increased more significantly for active members of defined benefit schemes in light of the increased annual allowance (particularly where pensionable pay is capped)?
  • whether employees with lifetime allowance protections, who had previously not been able to be enrolled in the workplace pension scheme for risk of losing that protection, can now be enrolled into the scheme?

It is worth remembering that the current Finance Bill does not provide for abolition of the Lifetime Allowance. This is due to be included in a future – presumably the spring 2024 – Finance Bill. In addition, the Labour Party has said that it would reinstate the Lifetime Allowance if it is elected at the next general election, so the budget may not be the last word on these issues.

See our Insight for more details and please do contact partner, Claire Rankin, for advice on any of the issues raised.

You can also read about what the spring Budget means for employers in our Employment Law Coffee Break.

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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