Employment and pensions

UK Employment Law Coffee Break: The Labour Party and workers' rights, our latest webinar, and supporting autism in the workplace

Published on 9th May 2024

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

Above view of people in a meeting sitting around a table

Labour's new deal: reforms to be subject to consultation

As we move closer to a general election, the media is increasingly reporting on what a new Labour government might mean for workers' rights. The Labour Party has previously published its "New Deal" for workers' rights, but adjustments to these proposals have been announced in the press, as Labour seeks to reassure employers in the run up to the election.

As originally published, the New Deal sets out employment policies ranging from full employment protection from day one (including unfair dismissal rights), higher sick pay, a right for workers to disconnect, a ban on zero-hours contracts and a ban on the use of "fire and re-hire".

It has been reported that the updated version of Labour's programme includes, among other proposals:

  • a promise to consult on its plan to create a "single status" for all workers except those who are genuinely self-employed;
  • a review of parental leave in the first year of a Labour government;
  • a promise to consult on a fair pay agreement in the social care sector (watered down from the original proposal for fair pay agreements in all sectors);
  • a code of practice providing workers' with a right to disconnect and which will be overseen by Acas, rather than a right set out in legislation;
  • basic job protections from day one of employment but that employers "would be able to use probationary periods and staff could still be dismissed for 'fair reasons'";
  • rather than an outright ban on zero-hours contracts, measures to prevent the "abuse" of zero-hours contracts, with a right to a contract reflecting a worker's regular work pattern over the previous 12 weeks; and
  • in relation to the practice of fire and re-hire, replacing the "inadequate statutory code" which is due to be brought in shortly by the current government, with "a strengthened code of practice and reform [to] the law to provide effective remedies against abuse" while recognising that "it is important that businesses can restructure to remain viable and preserve their workforce when there is genuinely no alternative".

Labour is expected to publish its refined package of measures in the coming weeks. It had previously stated that it would bring forward legislation in a new Employment Bill within its first 100 days in office to enact the reforms, but it is reported that many of the policies will now be "draft proposals" and subject to a "full and comprehensive consultation" giving employers an opportunity to formally input into proposals before they become law and which would delay the implementation in to practice of many laws.

However, Labour will also need to respond to the reactions of trade unions. One union that has seen the revised version has stated on its website that "this new document is turning what was a real new deal for workers into a charter for bad bosses. Labour don't want a law against fire and rehire and they are effectively ripping up the promise of legislation on a new deal for workers in its first 100 days. Instead, we have codes of conduct and pledges of consultation with big business. Likewise, the proposal to legislate against zero hours contracts is watered down to almost nothingAll unions must now demand that Labour changes course and puts the original New Deal for Workers back on the table".

We previously reported on Labour's plans to extend the existing sex-based equal pay protection to provide a right for black, Asian and ethnic minority workers, as well as disabled people, to bring equal pay claims under a new "Race Equality Act". Kevin Barrow and Frances Lewis from our workforce solutions team also take a look at what a Labour government could mean for suppliers (including staffing companies and platforms) and users of temp and zero-hours workers and contractors in this Insight.

Join our webinar looking at compliance with new employment laws

Please join Natasha Burbidge and Laura Crang from our employment team, on Thursday 16 May, for our latest Eating Compliance for Breakfast webinar which will look at the new employment laws introduced this year and the steps employers should be taking now to ensure they are compliant.

We will also look ahead to how businesses can prepare for further changes in 2024, including the new legal duty to prevent sexual harassment. It has been reported that the Equality and Human Rights commission intends to open a six week consultation in early summer 2024 on planned changes to its current technical guidance to reflect the changes that will be introduced in October, with final guidance expected to be published in September – however, this is an area for which employers should start preparing.

Register here >

The Buckland Review and autism in the workplace

Our Solicitor Apprentice in the employment team, Jacob Elsdon, takes a look at the Buckland Review on autism in the workplace.

Around one million autistic people currently live in the UK, and yet according to the latest official statistics, only 30% of them are in work compared with 53.6% of all disabled people. This "autism employment gap" is hugely detrimental to the UK economy, costing approximately £14.5 billion every year, and leaves thousands of individuals alienated from the work force.

These statistics have sparked an increased focus on the disadvantage autistic individuals face when seeking employment in the labour market, and subsequently has led to the government urging all employers to "get behind" the recommendations set out in Sir Robert Buckland's report on autism in the workplace

The Buckland Review, published in February 2024, provides guidance on how employers can recruit, retain and develop employees with autism. It gives 19 practical recommendations that employers can implement into their business practice, including small adjustments employers can make right away which could nevertheless have great impact. 

Raising awareness and reducing stigma

Currently, it is estimated that 10% of employees diagnosed with autism keep it a complete secret and just 35% are open about being autistic. The Buckland Review suggests a national campaign aimed directly at employers to raise awareness of outstanding and successful individuals with autism – but this type of campaign could also be run internally to champion employees in individual organisations.

Autistic people earn one-third less than non-autistic people on average. Introducing autistic role models within the organisation could help to reduce this gap by facilitating career ambition and development. Moreover, research by the National Autistic Society found that the most common reason autistic people gave for not looking for work was a lack of confidence. "Autism Champions" have the potential to contribute to a culture of inclusivity within organisations. 

The Buckland Review highlights the breadth of resources already produced by larger organisations and charities that can be utilised in training. While these types of reasonable adjustment will require commitment, communication and positivity, they may not be as huge a financial burden as many employers assume (69% of employers worried about the cost, and 67% worried about the practical considerations).

Additionally, the full Autistics Neurodiversity Employers Index is set to launch in autumn 2024, which will centralise good practice into one place and could be used as a toolkit for employers.

Negative stereotypes act as a barrier to employment for neurodivergent individuals and it is important for employers to proactively make resources available to their workforce, so they understand how to make adaptations for autistic staff.

Employers should avoid oversimplification and reliance on the medical model, and actively host training which engages their employees and spotlights the commercial benefits to an organisation made up of individuals who can think differently. 

Recruitment practices 

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for their employees in the recruitment process and during their day-to-day work life, or they could face a discrimination claim, including for a failure to make reasonable adjustments.

A significant reason for autistic people's lack of confidence in looking for work is recruitment practices. These can often favour neurotypical individuals, and often contain tasks that neurodivergent applicants will be disadvantaged by, such as group tasks, traditional interviews and psychometric testing. 

The Buckland Review quotes an autistic participant saying, “If someone is applying for a job as a violinist in an orchestra, they are not asked to tell the interviewer something about their achievements playing the violin: they are asked to play the violin.” Too often recruitment practices assess social skills rather than the actual job skills.

While it would be unreasonable to completely remove some of these legitimate assessment methods, there may be a reasonable adjustment that can be made to ensure that all applicants have equal and fair opportunity to display their proficiencies. For instance, it may be possible to send the questions in advance of an interview, so an individual does not feel overwhelmed or put on the spot. Could more time be allowed for during their interview? Could psychometric testing be replaced with a more practical and applicable test to the role they are applying for – "on the job" assessments can be a better way of assessing neurodivergent employees who struggle to demonstrate their skills through interview or traditional assessments.

Reasonable adjustments are not about asking every candidate "Are you autistic?", but instead should be an opportunity for organisations to proactively ensure the entire recruitment process is as fair as possible. Additionally, generic job descriptions flooded with competencies and required skills could present a barrier to autistic people, leading a potential neurodivergent applicant, who would be a good fit for the role, to believe that it is beyond their capabilities.

The Buckland Review also suggests that employers engage with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which can advise on the benefits autistic candidates can bring to businesses and how to remove any potential barriers in their way.  

Inclusion by design 

Employers can work alongside autism charities to produce "autism design guides", no matter what industry they operate in. Being "inclusive by design" can benefit everyone in organisations, increasing wellbeing and highlighting the importance of mental health in commercial success and personal development.

Design guides do not necessarily need to be specifically targeted to employees with autism. While design includes the furnishings, premises and equipment being used by employees, the procedures are just as relevant.

An example of how to be inclusive by design are the design experts for HMRC's new regional centres. They worked with neurodiverse communities to develop a sensory-muted design which included a variety of wall and desk finishes and sensory-muted pods.

While organisations do not necessarily need to replicate this approach to design, they should be actively introducing creative strategies to support all employees. Currently only 33% of employers consider neurodivergence and autism in their long-term strategy. 

Flexible working arrangements are often a key adjustment for neurodivergent employees. Since 6 April this year, all employees have the right to make a flexible working request from day one of employment. Having an inclusive culture that supports flexible working arrangement and finds the right fit for the business and employee will benefit both neurodivergent and neurotypical staff alike. 

Takeaway for employers

Increased awareness of neurodivergence means more employees understand their needs and enter work with a diagnosis, and will therefore be seeking adjustments to enable them to do their best work – the Buckland Review provides timely guidance to help employers take steps to build a more neuro-inclusive workplace.

Organisations should consider what steps they can implement in the next few months and ensure the support available is mirrored in the relevant policies and procedures.


* 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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