Here we look at some of the big issues to occur over the last 12 months and what to expect over the coming year.
Hot topics of 2021:
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the employment landscape. While many had expected, or hoped, the changes brought by the pandemic would have plateaued in the latter half of 2021, many employees are only just returning to the workplace following a change in government guidance in December 2021. In some respects, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst, particularly around flexible and hybrid working, however the delays to key employment law developments expected to take place in 2021 continue into 2022. The pandemic has also formed the context of a number of cases that have come through the employment tribunal system as a result of remote working and the furlough scheme. There have also been a raft of cases involving unfair dismissals, where not knowing how to react to the difficulties brought by the virus sometimes led employers into trouble. Covid-19 also had a significant gendered economic impact on women.
Of course, Covid-19 sent the world into a tailspin with employers and employees both having to work out how to be productive despite very challenging circumstances, nevertheless it has highlighted the myriad of possibilities that exist. There have been calls by many respected business groups to make flexible working the default position, leading to a government consultation on the subject, and the CIPD calling for it as a day one right.
Equal Pay and the Gender Pay Gap
Big cases for Morrisons and Asda determined that (female) retail workers could be compared with those of (male) logistics workers at national distribution centres. Meanwhile, enforcement of gender pay gap reporting was put back six months in 2021 due to the pandemic, with most eligible companies now complying with their reporting obligations. There have now been calls for reporting of the ethnic pay gap, especially since some big firms have voluntarily started publishing results which include other diversity metrics including class, sexual orientation, ethnicity and disability – way beyond the minimum obligation, and tying in nicely with the government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda.
The Employment Bill
The bill was promised in the 2019-20 parliamentary session but did not get past a first reading. It was omitted from the Queen’s speech in 2021 with the government response being it will be addressed “when parliamentary time allows”, namely once all the extra pandemic work is out of the way. There do seem to be small workings taking place though – with the single enforcement body for employment rights starting to take shape, but again, this will involve more parliamentary time to flesh out its bones. We continued to see the evolution of cases involving workers in the gig economy. This is an area that is not going away just yet, and we hope to see more clarification in the Bill when it is ready.
The Big Issues for 2022:
Changes to traditional 9-5 office-based working
Whilst some employers are now requiring their workforces to return to pre-pandemic working locations, the pandemic shifted and centralised the issue of flexible working for employers, with many now normalising a return to offices on a hybrid basis. A government consultation on making flexible working the “default position” ran from September to December 2021 and set out five proposals including making flexible working a day one right. Note that the government’s proposals do not introduce an automatic right for employees to work flexibly. Rather, the proposals include a number of measures to broaden the scope of the right, while retaining the basic system involving a conversation between employer and employee about how to balance work requirements and individual needs, potentially changing the statutory business reasons for refusing a flexible working request. As the consultation closed on 1 December 2021, it is unlikely there will be a response from the government until the latter half of 2022.
Some developing themes which employers may continue to face in 2022 include requests from employees to work flexibly abroad and the impact on wellbeing of continued working from home. Following research about the significant amount of hidden overtime while working from home during the pandemic, there have also been calls for the government to introduce a “right to disconnect“. This has recently been brought into effect in some European countries and is being discussed by the Scottish Government in relation to their own employees. It was also mentioned in a briefing paper on hybrid working published by the House of Commons Library in November 2021. Most recently, several big companies have announced their intention to trial four day working weeks, with senior managers under 35 being the most enthusiastic, understanding the impact on employees as well as improving retention and happiness. Perhaps this is the year that the oft quoted “good work-life balance” statement actually rings true.
Vaccinations at work
On 1 April 2022, following a consultation, regulations come into force which will make vaccination against COVID-19 a requirement for health and social care workers in a face-to-face role. It remains to be seen how employers in this sector will deal with unvaccinated employees. Employers in other sectors, who have a duty to maintain a safe workplace, have been encouraging staff to get vaccinated. In the absence of further government requirements on mandatory vaccinations, there would be risks for employers who may want to make vaccination a requirement for new or existing staff. The key legal problem will be the risk of potential unfair dismissal and potential discrimination claims if employees are dismissed for refusing to be vaccinated and the employer is unable to justify dismissal as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
New duty to prevent sexual harassment
On 21 July 2021, the government published its response to the 2019 consultation on workplace sexual harassment. The response confirmed a new duty for employers to prevent sexual and third-party harassment, which is likely to include a defence where an employer has taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent the harassment. The government will also consider the proposal to extend the time limits for claims under the Equality Act 2010, but has not yet committed to making any changes. The duty will come into force when Parliamentary time allows.
Review of gender pay gap reporting regulations
By April 2022, the government must review the gender pay gap regulations as they are obliged to do so within five years of the regulations coming into force (regulation 16(3), Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 (SI (2017/172)). The purpose of this review will be to assess the extent to which the reporting requirement achieved the objectives of the regulations, whether the objectives remain appropriate and whether any unnecessary burden is placed on employers.
Several data protection developments are likely to impact employment practitioners in 2022. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) proposed data protection reforms in its consultation which closed on 19 November 2021. The primary objective of the consultation was to seek views on the proposals to reduce the burden data protection places on businesses. In addition, the government sought views on how Article 22 of the UK GDPR should be interpreted in the context of artificial intelligence (AI) in several areas, including where it related to automated decision-making.
We are also expecting to see updated data protection and employment practices guidance in 2022 from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), following a call for views which ran until 28 October 2021. The new guidance will finally replace the ICO’s employment practices code, supplementary guidance and the quick guide, which have not been updated since the Data Protection Act 2018 came into force. The new guidance will cover topics including recruitment and selection, employment records, monitoring of workers, and information about workers’ health.
Human Rights Act 1998
In 2020, the government announced the launch of an independent review of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA 1998), while emphasising its ongoing commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Independent Human Rights Act Review (IHRAR), conducted by an independent panel chaired by Sir Peter Gross, a former Court of Appeal judge, reported back to the government on 29 October 2021. On 14 December 2021, the Ministry of Justice published Human Rights Act Reform: A Modern Bill Of Rights, a consultation on replacing the HRA 1998 with a Bill of Rights. The full report conducted by the IHRAR Panel was also published on 14 December 2021. Whether the right to a jury trial should be recognised in the Bill of Rights and the introduction of a permission stage for human rights claims where claimants must establish they have suffered “significant disadvantage” or that the claim is of “overriding public importance” are key proposals included in the consultation document.
Many of the proposals are regarded as highly controversial. However, it should be recognised that the proposals are simply being consulted on at this stage and therefore whether they ultimately become law remains to be seen following the close of the consultation in March 2022.
Potential developments to look out for:
Single enforcement body for the labour market
In the Good Work Plan, the government announced an intention to bring forward proposals for a new single labour market enforcement agency. On 8 June 2021, BEIS published the government consultation response on the proposal, and confirmed they would consolidate three of the current enforcement bodies into a single agency with increased powers. On 22 November 2021, Margaret Beels OBE was appointed as the new Director of Labour Market Enforcement, and she plans to set the strategic direction for the three existing labour market enforcement bodies that will be amalgamated into the single body; the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and HMRC’s National Minimum Wage Team. The formation of the new agency requires primary legislation and this will be brought forward when Parliamentary time allows. The joined-up approach is intended to help improve enforcement through better co-ordination and pooling intelligence.
Confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements
In July 2019, the government published its proposals to prevent the misuse of confidentiality clauses or non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in the settlement of workplace harassment or discrimination complaints. The government reiterated that confidentiality clauses can serve a legitimate purpose in both employment contracts and settlement agreements but confirmed its intention to bring forward new legislation “when Parliamentary time allows“.
This measure has been significantly delayed due to the pandemic, but it is anticipated that the legislation (likely to be included in the long-awaited Employment Bill) will curb the use of NDA provisions in employment contracts and settlement agreements alongside a requirement for independent legal advice to be provided to individuals asked to sign an NDA. New enforcement measures will be introduced for NDAs in employment contracts and settlement agreements that do not comply with legal requirements.
In practice Employment lawyers have been ahead of the government on this matter. Since the emergence of the #MeToo movement settlement agreement have routinely included carve outs from the confidentiality provisions to allow ex-employees to report crimes, as well as seeking support from professionals providing medical, therapeutic, counselling and support services. As ever though without statutory backing the inclusion of such carve outs remains dependent on the negotiating powers of the parties involved.
Tipping, gratuities, cover and service charges
Another measure to be included in the Employment Bill, once progressed, is legislation that will see tips retained by hospitality staff in their entirety, except deductions required by tax law. Employers will also be required to distribute tips in a fair and transparent way, according to a published policy. A new Code of Practice on Tipping, to which employers will be required to have regard, is expected to replace the existing voluntary code of practice.
Neonatal leave and pay
On 16 March 2020, the government responded to a consultation on neonatal care leave, proposing the introduction of statutory neonatal leave and pay for up to 12 weeks for parents of babies requiring neonatal care. The government will legislate to implement the new entitlements in the forthcoming Employment Bill.
Extending redundancy protection for women and new parents
On 21 June 2021, the Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill was reintroduced to Parliament for a second time. The second reading of this Private Members’ Bill is scheduled for 18 March 2022. If passed, the Bill will prohibit redundancy during pregnancy and maternity leave and for six months after the end of the pregnancy or maternity leave, except in specified circumstances. This follows the government’s statement on 22 July 2019 that it would expand redundancy protection in response to a BEIS consultation on the matter. The government has since reiterated their intention to extend the period of redundancy protection for pregnant women and new parents would progress as part of the Employment Bill “when Parliamentary time allows“. It remains unclear whether the extended redundancy protection will be implemented through the Private Members’ Bill or the Employment Bill.
Leave for unpaid carers
On 23 September 2021 the government published a response to its consultation on carer’s leave. In the response, the government committed to introducing a right for unpaid carers to take up to a week of unpaid leave per year. There is no scheduled timetable for the introduction of this right; it will progress when Parliamentary time allows.
Ethnicity pay gap reporting
In 2018, the government launched a series of measures to tackle barriers facing ethnic minorities in the workplace, including a consultation on the introduction of mandatory ethnicity pay reporting, based on the model of mandatory gender pay gap reporting. While the government is still considering mandatory ethnic pay reporting, and has failed to respond to its consultation (which closed in January 2019), there has been a wider move towards voluntary collection of diversity data to help companies identify and address existing barriers to access or promotion.
Disability workforce reporting
The government is consulting on disability workforce reporting for large employers with 250 or more employees and is expected to publish their response on 17 June 2022, as part of the National Disability Strategy. Through the consultation the government hope to glean information on current reporting practices, arguments for and against implementing a mandatory approach and how such a mandatory approach may be implemented. The consultation also requests views on alternative approaches to enhance transparency and increase inclusivity for disabled people in the workforce. The consultation will accept submissions until 25 March 2022.
Whistleblowing review and new EU Directive
BEIS announced a review of whistleblowing legislation, following the publication of data showing that one in four COVID-19 whistleblowers who contacted the whistleblowing advice service, Protect, were dismissed between September 2020 and March 2021. The scope of the review has not yet been confirmed and whether it is to fall within the remit of the single body to enforce workers’ rights. Although the UK will not be required to implement the new EU Whistleblowing Directive (2019/1937/EU), the Directive may still influence whistleblowing practice, especially for pan-European organisations operating in multiple locations. Since 17 December 2021, EU member states have been obliged to bring into force the laws necessary to establish internal reporting channels. (For private sector entities with between 50 and 249 workers, the implementation deadline is extended to December 2023.) The Directive also requires measures to be implemented to protect a whistleblower’s identity, acknowledge disclosures within seven days and provide a response within a reasonable period.
Post-termination non-compete clauses
On 4 December 2020, BEIS opened a consultation on measures to reform post-termination non-compete clauses in employment contracts. The consultation, which closed on 26 February 2021, sought views on proposals to require employers to continue paying compensation to employees for the duration of a post-termination non-compete clause, requiring employers to confirm in writing to employees the exact terms of a non-compete clause before their employment commences, introducing a statutory limit on the length of non-compete clauses, or banning the use of post-termination non-compete clauses altogether. The government is yet to report the results of the consultation.
Extending ban on exclusivity clauses
Another consultation was launched by BEIS on 4 December 2020, on measures to extend the ban on exclusivity clauses in employment contracts to cover those earning under the Lower Earnings Limit, currently £120 a week. This would prevent employers from contractually restricting low earning employees from working for other employers. This consultation, which was launched in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on low earners, closed on 26 February 2021 but there is not currently a timetable for the next developments.
Working conditions in digital labour platforms
The European Commission has adopted a package of measures to improve working conditions in digital labour platform work and support their sustainable growth in the EU. The measures include a Directive, to which the UK will not be bound but which may prove to be influential.
On 20 January, the Court of Appeal heard the appeal in Kocur & Others v Angard Staffing Solutions Ltd, part of the latest instalment in long-running litigation involving agency workers supplied to Royal Mail. In the decision under appeal, the EAT concluded that the right of agency workers under regulation 13 of the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 (SI 2010/93) to be informed by their hirer of any relevant vacant posts with the hirer does not encompass a right to be entitled to apply, and be considered, for vacancies on the same terms as employees recruited directly by the hirer. The EAT also held, among other things, that there was no breach of the principle of equal treatment in agency workers’ shift lengths being 12 minutes longer than those of direct recruits, nor in direct recruits being given first refusal in relation to overtime. The judgment is awaited.
On 9 November 2021, the Supreme Court heard the case of Harpur Trust v Brazel. Judgment is awaited on whether “part-year workers” (those working only part of the year, such as during school terms) should have their annual leave entitlement capped at 12.07% of annualised hours. Once the case reached the Court of Appeal, Unison was given permission to intervene as an issue of general importance was raised regarding the calculation of holiday pay. The case was widely reported at the latter stages and may lead to further claims being brought by part-time employees. Therefore, the Supreme Court judgment is highly anticipated in the hope it will provide further clarity.
In Smith v Pimlico Plumbers Ltd, the EAT found that the ECJ’s ruling in King v Sash Window Workshop Ltd (Case C-214/16) EU:C:2017:914 should not be interpreted as meaning that a worker is entitled to carry over untaken annual leave where the worker was permitted to take leave that was unpaid. Although King established that a worker is entitled to carry over annual leave that is not taken because the employer refuses to pay for it (thereby discouraging the worker from taking leave), the principle does not apply to leave that was actually taken. The worker in this case, a plumbing and heating engineer, was therefore unable to rely on King when asserting his right to be paid for holiday he had taken at the time when his employer did not accept that he was a worker within the meaning of the Working Time Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/1833) (WTR 1998). The main issue is likely to be whether unpaid leave can properly be regarded as leave for the purposes of the WTR 1998. The Court of Appeal heard the case on 7 and 8 December 2021 and judgment is awaited.
In Baker and others v Royal Mail, 120 postmasters and sub-postmasters brought an employment tribunal claim against the Post Office. The claimants run Post Office franchises but seek recognition as workers because of the degree of control the Post Office has over the work they do. The same argument was used successfully in the landmark Uber BV and others vs Aslam and others on which the Supreme Court ruled in February 2021. A judgment is yet to be delivered in this case and could have implications beyond the specific claimants as there are thousands of sub-postmasters across the UK.
The EAT is expected to deliver judgment in Mackereth v Department for Work and Pensions and another which concerns the refusal of a Christian doctor, engaged to carry out health assessments for the Department of Work and Pensions, to address transgender patients by their chosen pronoun. The EAT will consider an employment tribunal’s finding that while the doctor’s Christianity is protected under the Equality Act 2010, his particular beliefs, that God only created males and females, that a person cannot choose their gender and his conscientious objection to transgenderism, are not protected as they amount to views incompatible with human dignity and therefore conflict with the fundamental rights of others. The EAT heard the case on 18 and 19 October 2021 and judgment is awaited.
Lastly, Chell v Tarmac Cement and Lime Ltd was heard by the Court of Appeal in November 2021 and we are awaiting the outcome. The initial decision by the County Court, upheld by the High Court, found that an employer was not negligent or vicariously liable for a contractor’s personal injury suffered in its workplace because of an employee’s practical joke. The County Court held that devising and implementing a health and safety policy which factored in horseplay, or practical jokes, was expecting too much of an employer.
If you would like any additional information, please contact Anne-Marie Pavitt or Sophie Banks on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Disability Discrimination: Dismissal for poor performance was not disability discrimination
- Whistleblowing: It is not automatically unfair to dismiss for redundancy based on reasons materially influenced by protected disclosures
- Unfair Dismissal: Employee must be allowed chance to respond to allegation relied upon in disciplinary hearing
- Unfair Dismissal: Tribunal cannot impose reason for dismissal not raised by parties
- Human Rights: Conduct at preliminary hearing held in private does not form part of claimant’s private life and engage Article 8
- Autumn Budget: Key employment law points
- Contracts: Government blocks “fire and rehire” bill but encourages ACAS to produce guidance instead
- Working From Home: Employer monitoring of homeworkers prompts calls for strengthened regulation
- Artificial Intelligence: New AI legislation proposed to counter negative impacts of use of surveillance technologies on workers
- Gender Pay Gap: Analysis of 2021 GPG figures shows slight narrowing of gap
- Mental Health: Conflicted workers struggling with childcare responsibilities can be more productive with support and flexibility
Disability Discrimination: Dismissal for poor performance is not disability discrimination
In Stott v Ralli Ltd  UKEAT 2019-000772, the EAT has upheld a tribunal’s decision that the dismissal of a paralegal for poor performance was not an act of discrimination arising from disability (a mental health impairment) contrary to section 15 of the Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010).
The claim had been brought solely in relation to the claimant’s dismissal and the tribunal had been entitled to find that the respondent did not have knowledge (actual or constructive) of the claimant’s disability before the dismissal. Further, the tribunal had correctly directed itself in relation to the justification defence and had made sufficient findings of fact to support its conclusion that the defence had been made out.
In relation to knowledge, the claimant argued that the tribunal should have regarded the grievance she brought after her dismi ssal, and her appeal from the outcome of the grievance, as an integral part of the dismissal process. She submitted that the tribunal should have found that, by the end of that process, the respondent had knowledge of her disability. She relied on the EAT’s decision in Baldeh v Churches Housing Association of Dudley and District Ltd UKEAT/0290/18, which held that, where an employer had not known about an employee’s disability at the time of their dismissal but had been told about it at an appeal hearing, the dismissal could be discriminatory under section 15 of the EqA 2010.
The EAT noted that, for the purposes of an unfair dismissal claim, dismissal is regarded as a process which includes the appeal stage. It held that Baldeh does not establish any legal principle to the effect that the same approach universally applies in a discrimination claim. The approach in Baldeh was in fact similar to that in CLFIS (UK) Ltd v Reynolds  ICR 1010 in which it was held that a claim that a decision to dismiss was discriminatory, and a claim that a decision on appeal was discriminatory, were distinct claims which must be raised and considered separately. The claimant in this case had not brought a claim of disability discrimination in relation to her grievance; her claim was limited to the respondent’s dismissal decision.
Whistleblowing: It is not automatically unfair to dismiss for redundancy based on reasons materially influenced by protected disclosures
In Secure Care UK Limited v Mott  EA-2019-000977-AT, the EAT had to consider whether a dismissal by reason of redundancy (carried out after the employee had made protected disclosures) would be automatically unfair if the decision to dismiss had been ‘materially influenced’ by such disclosures. The EAT held that it would not.
The claimant was employed by the respondent as a logistics manager, providing transport services for NHS patients with mental health issues, including those detained under the Mental Health Act. He made nine protected disclosures about his employer (including insufficient staffing levels), who subsequently made him redundant. The claimant claimed under section 103A Employment Rights Act 1996 that he had been unfairly dismissed by reason of making protected disclosures. The tribunal, finding that three of the nine communications relied upon by the claimant were protected disclosures, upheld his claim, stating that while there was a genuine redundancy situation, the disclosures made by the claimant had had a material impact on his selection.
At appeal the case was remitted on the issue of causation as the EAT found that the tribunal had erred in two respects. Firstly, in applying the wrong causation test, namely the ‘materially influences’ test applicable to section 47B claims for detriment by reason of making a protected disclosure (Fecitt v NHS Manchester  ICR 372), rather than the ‘sole or principal reason’ test required by the terms of section 103A. Secondly, in failing to distinguish the impact of the three protected disclosures, from the impact of all nine of the claimant’s communications about staffing levels, when considering the reason for the dismissal.
Unfair Dismissal: Employee must be allowed chance to respond to allegation relied upon in disciplinary hearing
In London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham v Keable  UKEAT 2019-000733 the EAT had to consider a Council employee who had been dismissed for serious misconduct arising out of comments he made in a conversation with another individual when they each attended different rallies outside Parliament in his time off. The employee was pulled into a disciplinary process because, although his role at the Council was non-political, the conversation had been about events around the time of the Haavara Agreement of 1933 prior to WWII. Not only had the words spoken included reference to anti-Semitism, Nazis and the Holocaust, but it had been filmed and made its way around social media, resulting in an MP tweeting about it and identifying the claimant as a Labour Party member and Momentum organiser. Once identified as a Council employee, the MP caused the respondent to investigate and a disciplinary process was begun, following which, the claimant was dismissed for serious misconduct. The claimant had never known about the video or been told which specific allegation had led to his dismissal. He brought a claim of unfair dismissal.
At tribunal, the judge determined that the dismissal was both procedurally and substantively unfair. She made an order for reinstatement. The respondent employer appealed.
In dismissing the appeals, the EAT found that the tribunal judge was entitled to conclude that the dismissal was unfair. She concluded that there were relevant and significant errors in the procedure adopted by the Council employer, including the fact that the claimant was not informed of the specific allegation which led to his dismissal and the fact that the possibility of a lesser sanction, a warning, was not discussed with him. In reaching her conclusions the Judge did not substitute her own views for that of the employer. Whilst the Judge should have raised a relevant authority with the parties, on the facts of this case, that did not vitiate the decision. As to remedy, on the evidence before her, the Judge was entitled to conclude that reinstatement was practicable and to make the order she did. It was noted that in conduct cases, re-instatement can be ordered even if the dismissing manager genuinely believed misconduct had occurred; a conduct dismissal does not automatically mean that re-instatement is impracticable.
Unfair Dismissal: Tribunal cannot impose reason for dismissal not raised by parties
In Stone v Burflex (Scaffolding) Ltd  UKEAT 2019 001183 the appellant raised a grievance about his level of pay; following a meeting with the respondent’s management he was summarily dismissed. The appellant brought a claim for unfair dismissal under s.104 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA). The respondent’s primary case had been that he was not dismissed but had resigned. The employment judge found that the appellant had been dismissed. The employment judge decided that he had not asserted a statutory right (namely the right not to suffer unauthorised deductions from pay) and that the principal reason for his dismissal was not such an assertion but related to the availability of work and was the withdrawal of a concession to provide him with alternative work and was therefore redundancy or some other substantial reason.
The EAT considered that, on all the evidence, the finding that the appellant had not asserted a statutory right was perverse and so it substituted a finding to the contrary. The finding as to the reason for dismissal involved errors of law in that (a) the employment judge had not asked himself why the respondent had decided to withdraw the concession, and (b) the employment judge had identified a reason for dismissal which neither party had contended for without raising the matter with the parties before making a decision, when there were a number of submissions the appellant might have made if the matter had been raised (in particular relating to s.105 ERA).
Human Rights: Conduct at preliminary hearing held in private does not form part of claimant’s private life and engage Article 8
In Ameyaw v PricewaterhouseCoopers Services Ltd  UKEAT 2019-000480, the EAT held that a tribunal had not erred in law by refusing a claimant’s application for an anonymity or restriction order under rule 50 of the Employment Tribunal Rules of Procedure 2013 (ET Rules) and had correctly held that her rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) were not engaged.
The claimant had previously brought another rule 50 application as part of wide-ranging litigation against her former employer. This appeal concerned her application for an order that her identity be anonymised or that the contents of the reasons for an order made by an employment judge at a private preliminary hearing not be disclosed to the public. The reasons recorded the disruptive behaviour of her and her mother, and she was concerned about harm to her reputation. The EAT agreed with the tribunal that the claimant’s Article 8 rights were not engaged, for the following reasons:
- The claimant was not relying on conduct external to the legal proceedings and forming part of her private life, but conduct at a hearing recorded in writen reasons issued by the tribunal.
- Conduct at a tribunal hearing must not be taken to form part of a claimant’s private life protected by Article 8, even if members of the public are excluded from the hearing. A private hearing should not be conflated with the sphere of a claimant’s private life; the two are not the same.
- The claimant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to her conduct at the hearing. A reasonable person of oridnary sensibilities would not consider the public disclosure of the nature of their conduct at a hearing, even a private one, to be offensive. It was a foreseeable conseuqence that a claimant who misconducts themselves at a hearing will have the nature andextent of their misconduct set out in the tribunal’s decision.
The EAT concluded that, even if Article 8 were engaged, the tribunal was correct to find that the balancing exercise was against the making of an order under rule 50 and in favour of the open justice principle.
Autumn Budget: Key employment law points
On 27 October 2021, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, delivered the Autumn 2021 Budget. The government has wound down much of the emergency support it put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the budget announcements address the government’s shift in focus to economic recovery. We set out below the salient points in relation to employment.
Ongoing risks from COVID-19
It is noted that risks remain from COVID-19, especially through the coming months. On 14 September 2021, the government published COVID-19 Response: Autumn and Winter Plan which sets out how, through use of Plans A and B, it intends to address the challenges that may be posed by COVID-19 over the autumn and winter period. It is suggested that the government is monitoring the data closely and will only introduce further measures if needed.
Skills and apprenticeships
On 4 October 2021, the Chancellor announced a £500 million expansion of the government’s Plan for Jobs initiative which would target support to workers leaving the furlough scheme, the unemployed aged over 50, the lowest paid and young people. The Chancellor announced further investment intended to boost opportunities for people to upskill and retrain, and an increase in apprenticeships funding. In particular, there will be increased funding for the National Skills Fund to expand the Lifetime Skills Guarantee so more adults in England can access funding for in-demand Level 3 courses and Skills Bootcamps will be scaled up.
As a result of increased apprenticeships funding, the government will continue to meet 95% of the apprenticeship training cost for employers who do not pay the apprenticeship levy and will deliver apprenticeship system improvements for all employers. These include:
- An enhanced recruitment service by May 2022 for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), helping them hire new apprentices.
- Supporting flexible apprenticeship training models to ensure that apprenticeship training continues to meet employers’ needs. By April 2022, the government will consider changes to the provider payment profiles aimed at giving employers more choice over how the apprenticeship training is delivered and explore the streamlining of existing additional employer support payments so that they go directly to employers.
- Introducing a return-on-investment tool in October 2022 to ensure employers can see the benefits apprentices create in their business.
The Chancellor confirmed the extension of the £3,000 apprentice hiring incentive for employers until 31 January 2022 and announced investment in the Sector Based Work Academy Programme (SWAPs) which give unemployed people the opportunity to undertake work experience, learn new skills and retrain into high-demand sectors in their local area.
National minimum wage
On 3 March 2021, the government published its remit for the Low Pay Commission (LPC) for 2021. The remit asks the LPC to make recommendations for the National Living Wage (NLW) and National Minimum Wage (NMW) rates that should apply from April 2022. The LPC submitted its recommendations on 22 October 2021 and these were accepted by the government.
The Chancellor announced that the following rates (per hour) will apply from 1 April 2022:
- NLW for those over 23: from £8.91 to £9.50.
- NMW for those aged 21 to 22: from £8.36 to £9.18.
- NMW for those aged 18 to 20: from £6.56 to £6.83.
- NMW for those aged under 18: from £4.62 to £4.81.
- Apprentice Rate: from £4.30 to £4.81.
- Accommodation offset rate: from £8.36 to £8.70.
Workers who live in their employer’s family home, are treated as a member of the family and are not charged for food or accommodation do not qualify for the NMW (regulation 57, National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015 (SI 2015/621)). In submitting its recommendations, the LPC noted that this exemption, which was introduced to facilitate au pair placements, has given rise to longstanding concerns that it has provided a loophole for the exploitation of migrant domestic workers. The LPC recommends that the exemption is removed.
Contracts: Government blocks “fire and rehire” bill but encourages ACAS to produce guidance instead
The BBC reported on 22 October that the government has blocked a Private Member’s Bill which aimed to curb the practice of “fire and rehire” that has been the subject of recent high-profile disputes. Employers who wish to make detrimental changes to employees’ terms and conditions will, in the absence of employees agreeing to those changes, dismiss them and offer to re-engage them on the detrimental terms.
On 8 June 2021, responding to a report published by ACAS, the government stated that it would not yet legislate to prevent this practice but had requested that ACAS prepare more detailed guidance on how and when dismissal and re-engagement should be used.
Labour MP Barry Gardiner sponsored the Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill which would discourage the use of fire and rehire practices and grant additional protection to those affected by it. The government ordered Conservative MPs to oppose the Bill at its second reading on 22 October 2021, as reported in Hansard. While it regards the practice as “unacceptable as a negotiating tactic“, the government intends to await the ACAS guidance. ACAS duly obliged by publishing this new guidance on 11 November 2021.
Working From Home: Employer monitoring of homeworkers prompts calls for strengthened regulation
On 5 November 2021, the BBC reported how some employers are monitoring their employees at home. The trade union, Prospect, has called for the regulation of employer’s use of technology to monitor employees to be strengthened. This comes as new polling suggests that nearly a third (32%) of employees working from home are being monitored by their employers, rising to nearly half (48%) for younger employees aged 18 to 34. The poll also shows that monitoring of homeworkers by camera has more than doubled since April 2021, from 5% to 13%. In addition to strengthened regulation, Prospect has called for the monitoring of employees through webcams to be made illegal, except during calls and meetings. This follows a recent consultation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for views to inform new data protection and employee practices guidance, including to reflect changes in the way employers use technology, which will replace the existing Employment Practices Code.
Artificial Intelligence: New AI legislation proposed to counter negative impacts of use of surveillance technologies on workers
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the future of work published a report on 11 November 2021 that calls for an “Accountability for Algorithms Act (the AAA)” to curb employers’ use of technologies that monitor workers and setting performance targets determined by algorithms. The AAA is proposed to counter the negative impacts of the use of surveillance technologies which has increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report found that workers’ experience of these technologies amounts to “extreme pressure of constant, real-time micro-management and automated assessment“, and the APPG is particularly concerned about the impact this has on workers’ mental health and wellbeing. The report suggests the AAA would create a new corporate and public duty to undertake an “Algorithmic Impact Assessment“. It would also update digital protection for workers, offer additional collective rights for unions and specialist third sector organisations, and extend enforcement powers to the joint Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF).
On 19 November 2021, People Management published its exploration of the contents of the proposed Accountability for Algorithms Act, and what it might mean for employers. For a more in depth review, read the full article here: How new artificial intelligence legislation affects businesses.
Gender Pay Gap: Analysis of 2021 GPG figures shows slight narrowing of gap
On 15 November Personnel Today reported that PwC’s analysis of the most recent gender pay gap statistics shows a minimal decline of the gap from 13.3% in 2019/2020 to 13.1% in 2020/2021. According to PwC, the changes to the reporting deadline, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, impacted the disclosure rate significantly. Only a quarter of the employers that reported this year did so by the original reporting deadline of 5 April 2021. Analysis of those figures showed a decrease in the gender pay gap to 12.5%. By the extended deadline of 5 October 2021, 80% of the employers that reported in 2018/2019 had submitted their figures and the gap had risen to 13.1%. When the figures were released by ONS they noted comparisons ought be treated delicately due to the impact the pandemic had on wages and hours worked. PwC repeated this concern and added that the slight decrease in the gap, while positive, may be “masking other workforce patterns that are detrimental to gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace“.
Mental Health: Conflicted workers struggling with childcare responsibilities can be more productive with support and flexibility
Research carried out by Dr Deng at Durham Business School, and colleagues from other universities around the world, has found that parents who feel ashamed when something at work calls into question their parenting role, are less productive than those who do not feel ashamed. It also showed that staff struggling to balance work and parental responsibilities inevitably prioritise family commitments, at the expense of their work commitments. Those parents who already had lower levels of emotional stability were more likely to feel that their identity as a parent was under threat.
“Working parents not only experience pressure to exemplify an ‘ideal’ worker role, but they are also expected to engage in intensive parenting practices to raise successful children. Although the roles can complement each other, many find achieving this balance challenging, and therefore end up prioritising childcare as it is deemed more important.”Dr Deng
Dr Deng and colleagues explained that in today’s remote working world, the lines between professional and personal responsibilities are becoming blurred. More often than not, working parents are struggling to cope with the pressure of juggling the two, something which has been highlighted by the pandemic.
All is not lost though, as more and more organisations are finding out, good mental health is the cornerstone to a healthy and productive workforce. To help working parents tackle this imbalance, Dr Deng suggests organisations can, and should, be doing more to help their workers balance both their working role and their parental role too, saying:
“Organisations can train managers to recognise when employees are struggling with these issues, and work through those vulnerabilities by helping them to identify ways to proactively bounce back from their self-despair without withdrawing from their work roles.”Dr Deng
Dr Deng also suggests employers can also help employees further by giving them more flexibility to attend to their children’s needs, in exchange for employers gaining more focused and hardworking employees whilst on the job.
Speaking to People Management, Simon Kelleher, head of policy and influencing at Working Families said that flexible working practices are often beneficial for productivity and talent retention, but called on the government to deliver on the recent flexible working consultation.
“We continually hear from working parents and carers who are denied even modest flexible working requests and are having to make unenviable trade-offs to manage from going into debt to pay for childcare or leaving careers they had worked hard to build due to inflexibility,” he said.Simon Kelleher, Working Families
Currently, the law only allows for employees to take a ‘reasonable’ (which is undefined) amount of unpaid time off for unexpected events involving dependents. Some employers may provide further contractual benefits but this is entirely at the employer’s discretion.Simon
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A review of 2020’s biggest employment law issues and a look at what we should expect from the bright and glittery 2021.