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A chance to take stock of employment law changes; New rules on maternity and harassment.

Byline: BY VICKY ANDERSON Daily Post Staff

EMPLOYMENT specialists are warning about key changes to the law governing sex discrimination and maternity rights.

Martin Edwards, head of employment law at Mace and Jones, said the Government had issued new regulations from April 6, and estimated the maternity leave changes, bringing in the same conditions for ordinary maternity leave as well as any additional time taken, will cost employers pounds 156m.

Changes to what constitutes harassment have also been broadened. "It is vital employers are up to speed with these significant changes, which will require them to review their policies and practices," he said.

"The difference in the treatment of Ordinary Maternity Leave and Additional Maternity Leave for terms and conditions will be removed."

The changes apply to those whose expected week of childbirth is on or after October 5.

The Government estimated this would cost employers pounds 156m, said Mr Edwards, so it could be significant, particularly when coupled with the extension of maternity pay to 39 weeks and ultimately 52.

He said the other key difference was for employers who provided benefits based upon service, but excluded time spent on additional leave. This would need to change.

"This will apply to NHS Trusts and most public sector organisations," he said.

"All maternity leave will now need to count for these benefits and rights, not just the period on ordinary leave."

Further important changes included broadening the definition of harassment.

"Harassment will become unwanted conduct 'related to her sex', instead of 'on the grounds of sex'. This new definition will cover a wider range of conduct as the harassment is only required to be associated to the victim's gender, not caused by it.

"What will now be covered includes 'jokes' about mothers-inlaw and women being poor drivers, which are clearly related to gender but may not really be motivated by it." He said he would be surprised if this changed practices, but it would limit the use of certain arguments as a defence.

Mr Edwards added employers would now be liable for sexual harassment of employees by people who are not employees.

He said: "This will apply where the employer knows the employee has been subject to harassment on at least two occasions by someone who is not a work colleague and the employer has failed to take such steps as would have been reasonably practicable to prevent members of the public and service users harassing the employee."

"Importantly, the three incidents of harassment only need to be to the same employee, not by the same person. This change could be very important for organisations whose employees have contact with the public, patients or service users."

He said this increased the importance of dealing with employees' complaints..

vickyanderson@dailypost.co.uk

It is vital employers are up to speed with these changes

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 29, 2008
Words:476
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