Employment Law Consequences of the UK General Election

Labor & Employment Workforce Watch
January 2020

The general election in the United Kingdom took place on December 12, 2019, and resulted in a landslide majority of 80 seats for Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party.

The principal consequence of the election is that, three years after the Referendum, Brexit will finally happen and the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, in all likelihood on January 31, 2020.

From an employment law perspective, the short-term consequences of the Conservative victory are much less radical than if the Labour Party had won, which would have heralded a significant rebalancing of UK employment law in favour of unions and employees. As it is, the short-term plans for employment law reform in the Queen’s Speech (the announcement of the legislative programme) were fairly unsurprising and mostly a repetition of initiatives already announced. The plans include:

  • A change in immigration rules to introduce a points-based system by 2021 for newly arrived EU citizens to be aligned with non-EU citizens;
  • Increased protection for employees returning from maternity leave in the event of the redundancy of their role, so that the right to be given any suitable available vacancy will now continue to apply for six months following their return from maternity leave;
  • A reduction in the flexibility of employers to use “zero hours contracts” (in which the employer has no obligation to provide work but the employee has an obligation to be available in the event they are required);
  • A new right to neonatal leave and pay to support parents of premature or sick babies;
  • A proposal to make an employer’s default position be acceptance of any employee request for flexible work arrangements, unless the employer has good reason to reject the request;
  • A plan to limit the disruption caused by strikes in the railways sector.

In the longer term, there will likely be some divergence between UK law and European Union employment law, but in the short term all European-derived legislation will be carried forward into domestic UK law. There is a broad political consensus that the European-derived discrimination legislation will remain in place and the only likely changes by the current government will be to loosen protections for agency workers, adjust some portions of the working time legislation and perhaps clarify TUPE (the legislation covering transfers of employees on a business transfer or outsourcing). The precise weight to be given to judgments of the European Court of Justice remains politically sensitive and to be determined.

There is also a question as to whether there will be a second Scottish independence referendum at some point. In short, there should be no dull moments in the on the other side of the Pond for the foreseeable future!