NOW is a good time to look at the changes and new challenges that will arise in 2007 - and make plans to meet them.

The first four months will see the introduction of a number of employment law rights.

February sees the annual increase in compensation limits for claim before the employment tribunal for unfair dismissal and redundancy payments.

Where a dismissal is after February 1, the statutory cap on a week's pay will rise from £290 to £310. This will increase the maximum statutory redundancy payment (or the basic award in a claim for unfair dismissal) to £9,300.

The maximum compensatory award that an employment tribunal can make for claims of unfair dismissal rises from £58,400 to £60,600. There are no maximums set for claims involving discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, age, sexual orientation and religion or belief.

April will see significant changes to maternity leave provisions for parents of babies born on or after the April 1, 2007. Statutory Maternity Pay and maternity allowance is extended from six months to nine months. (It is intended that by 2009/10 this will be increased to 12 months).

Should a woman wish to return to work earlier than originally agreed, the period of notice she must give increases from four weeks to eight weeks.

April sees the introduction of "keeping in touch" days, which will allow a woman to go back to work for a few days during her maternity leave without losing her right to Statutory Maternity Pay.

One of the more significant changes is the right for a woman to return up to six months early from maternity leave and to transfer her remaining leave to the father of the child. Any outstanding entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay will also transfer to the father.

The Flexible Working (Eligibility, Complaints and Remedies) (Amendment) Regulations 2006 will come into force on April 6, 2007.

At present, parents of either children under six or disabled children under 18 have the right to request flexible working. The 2006 Regulations will extend that right to employees with six months' service who care for (or expect to care for) a person aged over 18 and in need of care.

To qualify for the right the person in need of care must be either married to, or the partner of, the employee; a relative of the employee; or living at the same address as the employee.

The Gender Equality Duty also comes into force in April.

Public authorities such as councils, schools, hospitals, GPs, police authorities and central government will have a duty to promote gender equality and eliminate sex discrimination.

Rather than rely upon complaints being made for discrimination, the obligation on the public authority is to demonstrate that it treats men and women fairly in the provision of their services and employment practices.

Planning ahead can make sure that your company is able to avoid the potential liabilities of the forthcoming changes.

  • David is with Mitchells Solicitors of York