Accelerator: Red tape bonfire

EMPLOYMENT LEGISLATION: Yet more of it was introduced in April with the burden, as ever, on employers to comply with an even stricter regime.

by Khalid Aziz
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

There's now a duty under the gender equality rules for bosses to identify specific goals. The new law instructs them to publish their goals, to monitor them and review them every three years. Until April, the right to request flexible working was linked only to childcare. Now it has been extended to an estimated 2.7m carers, who may be looking after parents, spouses or partners. And there's a further extension of maternity rights. In respect of babies born after 1 April 2007, there's an increase in maternity and adoption pay, and even longer maternity leave, irrespective of length of service. Employers are now able to keep in touch with employees on maternity leave, but these new parents can now work up to 10 'keeping in touch days'. Enough is enough, says Mr Angry Aziz.

It never ends. Small businesses could be forgiven for thinking they are living a permanent nightmare of ever-burgeoning employment legislation. Just when you thought it was safe to open one eye, yet more regulations are piled on your head.

Consider the latest welter of laws to hit the statute book. It's more of the same, and all part of the brand of New Labour stealth socialism that we've been subjected to over the past 10 years - the policy that goes hand-in-hand with stealth taxation. These politicians who steal your money through taxation to bribe their miserable supporters know that employers are a soft touch when it comes to using their precious resources - which should be deployed to create more wealth - to prop up people who ought to be taking more responsibility for themselves.

Let's look at this gender-equality issue first. Employers know that good people are hard to find. They want the right person for the job and abandoned years ago the antediluvian thinking that certain activities are 'women's work' and that 'this is a job that only a man can do'. Although some of that thinking might have had traction in the days of heavy industrial work such as mining, in today's knowledge-driven workplace, gender equality is almost built in. And, I hear the libertarians argue, surely it's right that employers should set goals and monitor them just to make sure there isn't institutional discrimination?

Well, no. We already have anti-discrimination laws covering everything from age to gender to sexuality - although not yet competence, but that may come too. If there is a case of discrimination, there are enough laws for anyone with a genuine grievance to make their case and have it heard by an employment tribunal. Adding target-setting to all the other red tape that companies have to wade through before they get on with the business of doing business is another example of gold plating that costs the Government nothing but adds to the real costs of business.

Now to flexible working. Although the new rules simply say that the right to be considered has been extended with no obligation on the employer to grant flexibility, there's no doubt that businesses will find themselves in a quagmire with this new piece of legislation.

Although it can be incontrovertibly proved that an employee has had a child who is by definition dependent, extension to other classes of carer makes it impossible and invidious for employers to check the merits of each case. Bosses will not want to open themselves up to more discrimination claims if they don't do for one class of carer what they do for others. It's a minefield.

The changes in the maternity rules seem at last to have nodded in the employers' direction. At least now it cannot be seen as harassment to stay in contact with a new-parent employee. But the real issue here is planning. Employers need to know when they can expect the worker to return.

Why couldn't the rules offer something more accommodating for employers, such as an obligation to commit six months after the birth of your child to coming back to work on a specific date? Of course, the employee might opt not to commit, in which case the employer would be freed of the obligation to keep the job open. This might be a more balanced and fairer approach.

But wait, I am now getting suckered into playing their game. See how it gets you?

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