Terms of employment – a great opportunity on the back of important changes from April

If you work within a People or HR team, you’ll know that changes to the scope of section 1 statements (the minimum information that must be given to employees about their terms of employment) are coming into effect on 6 April 2020. Last week the government also published regulations implementing a new right to two weeks’ paid bereavement leave for parents following the death of a child aged under 18.

Many organisations will already be starting to review their standard documents to meet these new obligations, possibly with just minimal tweaks. But is there a broader opportunity here?

What’s the legal development?

In summary, the changes are:

• The obligation to provide a written statement of particulars will be extended to workers, as well as employees. (Note: this right extends to the category of ‘workers’, not those who are genuinely self employed. It may bring into stark contrast the difference in benefits offered to ‘workers’ as compared with ‘employees’).

• Most of the written particulars must be provided in a single document on or before the date on which the employment starts. (There are exceptions for the particulars relating to pensions, collective agreements and any training entitlement – but these must be given no later than two months after the start of employment).

• The statement will also need to contain the following additional particulars:

– the days of the week the employee/worker is required to work, whether the working hours may be variable and how any variation will be determined in practice (Note – currently the information doesn’t have to be this specific);

– any terms and conditions you may have relating to any paid leave to which the employee/worker is entitled (Note – currently the requirement is only around holiday and sick pay, so this will include any terms and conditions in relation to other forms of paid leave, including for example maternity leave and the new paid bereavement leave);

– details of all pay and benefits (Note – this seems to include discretionary bonuses or other discretionary benefits);

– any probationary period ( and any conditions relating to that and its duration); and

– any training entitlement provided by the employer, including whether any training is mandatory and/or must be paid for by the employee/worker.

The information relating to training, paid leave (other than holiday), sickness benefits and pensions can be included in a separate document, such as a policy, with just a cross reference in the main statement.

You don’t necessarily have to update all contracts to reflect these changes – they only apply to employees/workers starting work on or after 6 April 2020 or where there are changes to the terms or an existing employee requests an updated version.

As has always applied, if you don’t offer some of these benefits then the statement should specify that – it’s not okay to just leave it out.

What’s the broader opportunity?

From a compliance approach, tweaking documents to include the additional information may be all that’s required. It seems though that the real driver for these changes is to encourage a new approach of transparency. Might it be better for employers to be open about the whole package they are offering employees and workers, rather than hiding some elements in policies (or other communications) that they may miss?

Could this be an opportunity to take an entirely fresh approach to contracts of employment? Employment contracts are often the last documents on the list when refreshing internal HR documents.   

Do you ever think about the purpose of the contract – is it just there to comply with the law and protect the employer against every eventuality, or is it used to build trust and good communication?

How do people feel when they get their contract? What does the contract look like visually?

Is the wording in your contracts easy to read? If not, does it matter and what risks does an organisation run?

Aurecon, an Australian engineering company has converted its contracts into a comic book strip – you can see a sample here. Driven by a desire for simplicity they have focused on the terms that really matter and built the contract around their values and attributes.

We believe the contract is an essential part of the overall communication with employees/workers, but it doesn’t have to be out of sync with your overall culture or issued apologetically.

Our comment

These fairly technical legal changes could actually be a great opportunity for forward thinking organisations. A trigger for a fresh approach, considering what you want your contracts to achieve and how they might better reflect and promote the purpose, values and positive culture of your organisation.