Employment Update: Pension benefits for surviving civil partners

Employment Update: Pension benefits for surviving civil partners

Pension benefits for surviving civil partners can be restricted – Walker v Innospec 

Pension schemes will not have to equalise survivor pensions for married couples and civil partners, following a Court of Appeal decision last week.

The facts: Mr Walker joined his employer’s pension scheme in 1980 and in 2006 he entered a civil partnership. That year, the pension scheme was amended to take account of civil partnerships to the extent required by law. The scheme provided for a surviving spouse’s pension, but, as permitted by law, for civil partners this benefit was only paid in respect of service on or after 5 December 2005 (the date civil partnerships were introduced). Mr Walker challenged this on the basis that it discriminated against civil partners in comparison to married couples. If Mr Walker had married a woman, she would receive around £41,000 per year following his death, compared to the £500 his partner would be entitled to.

The decision: The Court of Appeal rejected Mr Walker’s claim, saying that the arguments put forward were insufficient to challenge the basic principle that the law cannot be changed retrospectively. Whilst acknowledging that Mr Walker and his partner (now married) will find this hard to accept, the Court said ‘changes in social attitudes, and the legislation which embodies those changes, cannot fully undo the effects of the past’.  

It is estimated that, if pension schemes were required to implement full equalisation of pension rights, this would cost about £3.3bn. The Court refused to refer the case to the European Court of Justice, but it is still possible the case could be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Working grandparents to be entitled to shared parental leave and pay

George Osbourne has announced that shared parental leave and pay will be extended to working grandparents in recognition of the crucial role they play in providing childcare. The legislation is expected to be in force by 2018.

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Financial watchdogs announce new whistleblowing rules

The Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority have published a package of rules designed to make it easier for employees of banks and other financial institutions to raise concerns internally. Relevant firms will have to appoint a senior person as their ‘whistleblowers’ champion’ to support and encourage internal whistleblowers. They must also establish internal whistleblowing channels and inform staff about their legal right to blow the whistle.

Relevant organisations have until September 2016 to comply with the new rules.

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Are ‘sleep in’ staff entitled to the national minimum wage? –Shannon v Clifton House Residential

The question of whether workers who ‘sleep-in’ overnight at their workplace are entitled to the minimum wage has caused much confusion over the years. In the most recent case on this matter, the Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that the claimant was only entitled to the minimum wage for the hours during which he was actually awake and working. The claimant was employed as a night worker at a care home and was provided with a flat (his home) on the premises. He was required to be in the flat from 10pm until 7am every night, but was entitled to be asleep and was very rarely called upon (there were other night staff employed). In effect, he was on call and based at home. In the circumstances he was not ‘working’ merely by being in attendance.  

This is a particularly fact-sensitive area and this case does not really clarify the general position. The decision does not mean that all sleep-in workers need not be paid the minimum wage. However, it does demonstrate that mere presence in itself does not entitle a worker to the minimum wage for the whole shift. Unfortunately, much will depend on the precise circumstances.