David Greenhalgh, Employment Partner at London law firm Joelson discusses employment topics that we should expect to see develop this year.
2018 saw a huge focus on employment law issues, with workers’ rights, advances in equal pay, and #MeToo all making headlines. These topics will continue to make national conversation throughout 2019. With this in mind, there are a few considerations HR Directors must bear in mind for the year ahead.
An uncertain future in the midst of an impending Brexit has renewed the conversation around workers’ rights in the UK, and employers should take these into consideration. The Government has stated its intention to increasing protection for workers, and we are already seeing employers responding accordingly. For example, the NHS and more recently, restaurant chain Carluccio’s, have agreed to subsidise the EU nationals’ settled applications process for employees, once the scheme goes live in March. As Britain’s date of departure from the EU moves closer, we can expect to see more employers following suit. In the event of a general election, a future Government led by the Labour party would look to further increase the rights of employees in the workplace. Whatever the outcome, employers should act now to make the relevant changes required in accommodating the changing workers’ rights landscape.
#MeToo Developments and Aftermath
#MeToo has stayed true to its cause in progressing the movement against sexual assault, and last year saw the number of women stepping forward with their individual stories grow in steady numbers. The UK Government has responded by bringing forward the review date into the use of non-disclosure agreements in the workplace, following high-profile cases and allegations that these orders allow perpetrators of sexual misconduct to ‘gag’ their victims into staying silent.
Certain industries have responded in seemingly extreme, even controversial ways, to the #MeToo development. The “Pence Effect”, where men avoid interactions with women in the workplace, has had an impact in the financial services industry – one which has been traditionally male-dominated. For many men, it seems that a blanket approach and a “better safe than sorry” tactic is taken by avoiding the ‘unknown risk’ in hiring women, as they fear being accused of sexual misconduct or harassment.
Supermarket Equal Pay claims
The #MeToo wave accompanied the first batch of equal pay claims in the UK – lodged in November 2018 – against supermarket Morrisons. In-store female staff members claimed they were being unfairly paid less than their male counterparts, despite carrying out similar roles. We can expect more cases of this kind to be brought forward across other sectors, and for other decisions on equal pay in other UK grocery stores such as Sainsbury’s and Asda to follow this year.
Pay and Payslips
The first half of 2019 will mean changes to The Employment Rights Act 1996, which looks at the production of payslips. The proposed changes, which will become effective from 6th April, extend the legal right to a payslip to include individuals who fall under the legal definition of “worker”, and will include the number of hours worked. This is in addition to increases in the National Living and National Minimum Wage from April.
The Government’s Good Work Plan (published in December 2018) will create legislation to provide further clarity around worker status. This means that in practice, employers will have an obligation to share mandatory information with workers on the first day of a new job, to serve as criteria for setting out their legal ‘worker’ status. Although these changes are not expected to come into force until 2020, further Tribunal decisions and those from HMRC can be anticipated in the meantime regarding worker status. HR Directors in all sectors must monitor these developments closely to see how the conversation moves forward.
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