Why dropping common commencement dates for employment law could spell trouble for UK employers

A few months ago, Personnel Today broke the news that the UK Government is moving away from the common commencement dates (6 April and 1 October) for employment laws, beginning with some provisions of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013. UK employers are now starting to see the consequences of this change in policy from the Government.

When common commencement dates were first introduced in 2004, as someone who frequently updates employer documentation, I was sceptical that they could work. My feeling was that it was better for employment legislation changes to be spread out across the year, to avoid employers having to do all the work in a short space of time (for example, budgeting for any employment law changes, updating policies and reviewing procedures, and informing staff of the changes).

However, my opinion changed over time. I now prefer the certainty of knowing that 90% of important employment laws come into force on one of these commencement dates. For HR, this means that changes are easier to track and they can plan ahead for a busy time in March and September.

All that has changed this summer, and not necessarily for the better. This year, I’ve lost count of the number of times I have either asked, or been asked by, a colleague when an employment law change is happening, or whether or not a set date for a particular employment law change has actually been announced.

Employers now face a situation where some employment laws are coming into force at the end of June (including some important changes to whistleblowing laws), others in July (including the new employment tribunal rules and the introduction of tribunal fees), and more in September (the introduction of employee-shareholder contracts) and October (including the repeal of the Equality Act’s third-party harassment provisions). Confusingly, some parts of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 automatically come into force two months after the date it was passed (two months after 25 April, so 25 June), while others need a commencement order.

And the Government hasn’t helped its cause by delaying in publishing its promised “indicative timetable” setting out when various provisions of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 are expected to come into force and, when it finally appeared, publishing it without much fanfare in an impenetrable four-part document.

All this is likely to result in an increase in UK employers being caught out by missing important employment law changes.

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