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Employment Law Update Seminar: the key points

Our Employment Law seminar speakers have listed the main takeaways and discussion points from their talks.

4 minute read

Published 10 October 2023

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Hybrid working – Tania Goodman, Head of Employment

Hybrid working is probably the biggest change to working life in a generation fuelled by homeworking during the Pandemic and causing a major shift in employee expectations. Employers should try and strike the right balance between the requirements of office-based working and maintaining trust and confidence with the workforce when addressing this issue.

The default position for most companies is requiring staff to be office based two or three days a week, although this is not being closely scrutinised by all companies. There is significant anxiety about good people leaving to join competitors that offer more flexibility as being agile is seen as a welcome perk.

Here to stay?
There is some tension between more traditional management styles and the new normal. High profile individuals such as Lord Sugar and Jacob Rees-Mogg have publicly advocated a return to the office as much as possible.

Why is being office based seen as beneficial?
Some of the key benefits cited by advocates of officed-based working include:
– better collaboration, corporate culture, and internal networking;
– junior staff learning by osmosis and observing and shadowing senior colleagues;
– management having the ability to see staff engaged, monitor performance/activity, and provide feedback in the moment; and
– soft skills such as emotional intelligence and confidence are easier to recognise and address in person.

Are there potential cost savings in hybrid working?
Consider the ‘roles’ being performed and the extent to which these can be done remotely. Weigh up the commercial implications and whether some roles can be performed at a lower cost elsewhere or outsourced.

Get your house in order
– Have an employee monitoring policy which is compliant with the Data Protection Act and ensure that it is proportionate and transparent.
– Have an up-to-date hybrid working policy and a separate flexible working policy. They are distinct from each other and should not be combined.
– It is preferable to reflect hybrid working patterns in a policy that can be amended. There is no need to permanently change employment contracts in this context.
– However, please bear in mind that successful flexible working requests by individuals will require variations to employment contracts to reflect the new working arrangement. We generally recommend a trial period of up to 6 months before confirming permanent changes.
– Employers should also be aware that some new recruits are asking that hybrid working be incorporated into their employment contract rather than relying on policies and procedures. This means the employer has much less flexibility to change the contract, if necessary, unless any proposed changes are agreed with the employee.

We are here to help draft/review your policies and advise on any issues arising.

AI in the workplace – Daniel Zona, Associate

AI is not necessarily new, it has been with us for some time but we are perhaps seeing a growth of intentional or purpose-built AI being used in the workplace. While there is talk of introducing AI regulation, for now at least usual employment law applies to the use of AI in the workplace so employers remain legally responsible for the use of AI.

Looking forward
AI at work is part of a trend towards the integration of more sophisticated technology. It could affect the employment relationship and interaction with staff, including assisting with recruitment, personnel records, analysing performance, training needs and monitoring productivity, which is permissible if it’s done safely and lawfully.

AI is not infallible and can replicate the bias and prejudice that may be contained in the data being inputted by humans and as with all technology, it’s vulnerable to deliberate interference.

But AI also presents an opportunity to reshape the workplace. In the short term it is likely to require some investment in new technology as well as upskilling and training staff. Longer term, it can impact the complexion of the labour market and could lead to restructuring of particular industries.

Immigration Update – Charles Avens, Head of Immigration

A number of key visa changes have come into effect, specifically:
– The amalgamation of the Start Up visa and the Innovator visa into the New Innovator Founder visa, no initial capital requirement required.
– EU Settlement Scheme- the UK government is giving all EU citizens, with pre-settled status, an automatic 2 year extension if they have not applied for settled status, in which they can then apply for settled status.
– EU Settlement Scheme – for those with national insurance numbers the UK government will try to automatically upgrade those people with pre-settled status to settled status.
– Student visas- new restriction on switching to a work visa inside the UK.
– Student Dependants- No student will be able to bring dependants from 1 January 2024 unless they are undertaking a PhD course.
– New Zealand Nationals can now come to the UK for a total of 3 years on the Youth Mobility Scheme.
– Significant visa fee increase to take place- 15% for work and visit visas and 20% for student visas, settlement, citizenship, entry clearance and leave to remain.
– Significant crack down on illegal working with fines to rise to £45,000 per illegal worker for a first offence and £60,000 for repeat offenders.

What’s on the horizon? – Emma Burroughs, Associate

Flexible working requests
We are expecting several changes to the legislation around flexible working requests (FWR), which will likely be implemented in 2024 (although the legislation underpinning the changes is already in force). Employers need to be aware of these changes requiring their processes and policies to be updated.

Some of the changes include:
– increasing the number of FWR that can be made in a 12-month period from one to two;
– requiring employers to consult with employees before rejecting a FWR; and
– (potentially) removing the 26-week qualifying period and giving employees the right to make a FWR on day one of employment.

Sexual harassment
A bill is going through parliament now (thought to be in final form) which will impose a duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. The consequences of non-compliance will be felt in sexual harassment cases in the Employment Tribunals, where the Tribunal will be able to award an uplift in compensation of up to 25% for non-compliance. It will be more important than ever to for employers to have effective policies, procedures and practices in place to prevent harassment and then to meaningfully educate the workforce about a zero tolerance approach towards this sort of behaviour which, apart from being good practice, can also buy the employer a statutory defence.

Menopause
Although it has been widely discussed in the media, the government confirmed earlier this year that they do not plan to make any changes to discrimination law to specifically protect those experiencing menopause. The Equality Act 2010 is considered sufficient insofar as it affords protection to individuals subjected to unlawful sex and disability discrimination.

Redundancy protection extended
We are expecting the special redundancy protections currently in force for those on maternity, shared parental and adoption leave to be extended. It looks like this will cover those who are pregnant or have recently miscarried and those on maternity, shared parental and adoption leave for a period after they have returned to work. It is widely thought that period is likely to be six months. Again, whilst the bare bones of the legislation are in place, we await secondary legislation from the government to flesh out the provisions bringing the new rules into force.


For any follow-up questions, do not hesitate to contact our Employment team or Immigration lawyers or visit our Employment Lawyers page.

Empl sem Oct2023

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Longer Reads

Employment Law Update Seminar: the key points

Our Employment Law seminar speakers have listed the main takeaways and discussion points from their talks.

Published 10 October 2023

Associated sectors / services

Authors

Hybrid working – Tania Goodman, Head of Employment

Hybrid working is probably the biggest change to working life in a generation fuelled by homeworking during the Pandemic and causing a major shift in employee expectations. Employers should try and strike the right balance between the requirements of office-based working and maintaining trust and confidence with the workforce when addressing this issue.

The default position for most companies is requiring staff to be office based two or three days a week, although this is not being closely scrutinised by all companies. There is significant anxiety about good people leaving to join competitors that offer more flexibility as being agile is seen as a welcome perk.

Here to stay?
There is some tension between more traditional management styles and the new normal. High profile individuals such as Lord Sugar and Jacob Rees-Mogg have publicly advocated a return to the office as much as possible.

Why is being office based seen as beneficial?
Some of the key benefits cited by advocates of officed-based working include:
– better collaboration, corporate culture, and internal networking;
– junior staff learning by osmosis and observing and shadowing senior colleagues;
– management having the ability to see staff engaged, monitor performance/activity, and provide feedback in the moment; and
– soft skills such as emotional intelligence and confidence are easier to recognise and address in person.

Are there potential cost savings in hybrid working?
Consider the ‘roles’ being performed and the extent to which these can be done remotely. Weigh up the commercial implications and whether some roles can be performed at a lower cost elsewhere or outsourced.

Get your house in order
– Have an employee monitoring policy which is compliant with the Data Protection Act and ensure that it is proportionate and transparent.
– Have an up-to-date hybrid working policy and a separate flexible working policy. They are distinct from each other and should not be combined.
– It is preferable to reflect hybrid working patterns in a policy that can be amended. There is no need to permanently change employment contracts in this context.
– However, please bear in mind that successful flexible working requests by individuals will require variations to employment contracts to reflect the new working arrangement. We generally recommend a trial period of up to 6 months before confirming permanent changes.
– Employers should also be aware that some new recruits are asking that hybrid working be incorporated into their employment contract rather than relying on policies and procedures. This means the employer has much less flexibility to change the contract, if necessary, unless any proposed changes are agreed with the employee.

We are here to help draft/review your policies and advise on any issues arising.

AI in the workplace – Daniel Zona, Associate

AI is not necessarily new, it has been with us for some time but we are perhaps seeing a growth of intentional or purpose-built AI being used in the workplace. While there is talk of introducing AI regulation, for now at least usual employment law applies to the use of AI in the workplace so employers remain legally responsible for the use of AI.

Looking forward
AI at work is part of a trend towards the integration of more sophisticated technology. It could affect the employment relationship and interaction with staff, including assisting with recruitment, personnel records, analysing performance, training needs and monitoring productivity, which is permissible if it’s done safely and lawfully.

AI is not infallible and can replicate the bias and prejudice that may be contained in the data being inputted by humans and as with all technology, it’s vulnerable to deliberate interference.

But AI also presents an opportunity to reshape the workplace. In the short term it is likely to require some investment in new technology as well as upskilling and training staff. Longer term, it can impact the complexion of the labour market and could lead to restructuring of particular industries.

Immigration Update – Charles Avens, Head of Immigration

A number of key visa changes have come into effect, specifically:
– The amalgamation of the Start Up visa and the Innovator visa into the New Innovator Founder visa, no initial capital requirement required.
– EU Settlement Scheme- the UK government is giving all EU citizens, with pre-settled status, an automatic 2 year extension if they have not applied for settled status, in which they can then apply for settled status.
– EU Settlement Scheme – for those with national insurance numbers the UK government will try to automatically upgrade those people with pre-settled status to settled status.
– Student visas- new restriction on switching to a work visa inside the UK.
– Student Dependants- No student will be able to bring dependants from 1 January 2024 unless they are undertaking a PhD course.
– New Zealand Nationals can now come to the UK for a total of 3 years on the Youth Mobility Scheme.
– Significant visa fee increase to take place- 15% for work and visit visas and 20% for student visas, settlement, citizenship, entry clearance and leave to remain.
– Significant crack down on illegal working with fines to rise to £45,000 per illegal worker for a first offence and £60,000 for repeat offenders.

What’s on the horizon? – Emma Burroughs, Associate

Flexible working requests
We are expecting several changes to the legislation around flexible working requests (FWR), which will likely be implemented in 2024 (although the legislation underpinning the changes is already in force). Employers need to be aware of these changes requiring their processes and policies to be updated.

Some of the changes include:
– increasing the number of FWR that can be made in a 12-month period from one to two;
– requiring employers to consult with employees before rejecting a FWR; and
– (potentially) removing the 26-week qualifying period and giving employees the right to make a FWR on day one of employment.

Sexual harassment
A bill is going through parliament now (thought to be in final form) which will impose a duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. The consequences of non-compliance will be felt in sexual harassment cases in the Employment Tribunals, where the Tribunal will be able to award an uplift in compensation of up to 25% for non-compliance. It will be more important than ever to for employers to have effective policies, procedures and practices in place to prevent harassment and then to meaningfully educate the workforce about a zero tolerance approach towards this sort of behaviour which, apart from being good practice, can also buy the employer a statutory defence.

Menopause
Although it has been widely discussed in the media, the government confirmed earlier this year that they do not plan to make any changes to discrimination law to specifically protect those experiencing menopause. The Equality Act 2010 is considered sufficient insofar as it affords protection to individuals subjected to unlawful sex and disability discrimination.

Redundancy protection extended
We are expecting the special redundancy protections currently in force for those on maternity, shared parental and adoption leave to be extended. It looks like this will cover those who are pregnant or have recently miscarried and those on maternity, shared parental and adoption leave for a period after they have returned to work. It is widely thought that period is likely to be six months. Again, whilst the bare bones of the legislation are in place, we await secondary legislation from the government to flesh out the provisions bringing the new rules into force.


For any follow-up questions, do not hesitate to contact our Employment team or Immigration lawyers or visit our Employment Lawyers page.

Empl sem Oct2023

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