Clyde & Co's MENA employment team recently attended and presented at the Employment Law Alliance (ELA) annual conference, which was held in Shanghai. ELA is a global network of specialist employment and immigration lawyers from over 120 countries (including 50 U.S. states). Membership of ELA is by invitation only and only after member lawyers have passed a rigorous vetting process. ELA's annual conference is a unique opportunity for employment and immigration lawyers from around the world to discuss the challenges facing international employers. Emma Higham and Ben Brown attended on behalf of Clyde & Co. This article summarises the key themes which emerged from the discussions at the conference.

Immigration issues

International employers face constant immigration issues affecting their ability to resource their operations effectively and cost-efficiently, whether it be the travel bans imposed in the United States by President Trump, the uncertainty facing migrant workers in the United Kingdom following Brexit or the new visa restrictions on foreign workers imposed by the Government of the People's Republic of China.

As demonstrated by the Executive order issued by President Trump on 27 January 2017, which initially banned citizens from seven Muslim countries from entering the United States, immigration rules and regulations often change quickly and without notice. To reduce the risk of disruption to their operations, it is crucial that international companies obtain up-to-date advice from advisers who have specialist immigration knowledge of the relevant jurisdiction.

Implementing atypical working arrangements

The new generation of employees (often referred to as "millennials") want, and expect, to be able to work differently from their predecessors – whether it be under zero hours contracts, flexible hours or during the middle of the night via remote working.

The challenge for 21st century employers is to adapt their work practices to accommodate these atypical working arrangements within the legal framework in which they operate. Some well-known employers (such as Uber) have struggled to do this, which can materially affect their ability to resource their operations effectively and cost-efficiently.

Achieving gender equality in the workplace

Recent months have seen some welcome developments in gender equality, not least with the publication by the BBC of the salaries of their senior staff, the lifting of the ban on women driving in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the creation of the Gender Balance Guide in the UAE. However, there is still significant progress to be made, as demonstrated by the ongoing Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood.

In terms of workplace practices, the conference attendees urged employers to think creatively about the retention of high-performing female employees. For example, an oft-cited reason for female employees leaving the workplace is the lack of affordable childcare.

Employers in many jurisdictions could potentially address this by offering enhanced maternity/paternity benefits or implementing flexible working arrangements such as reduced or part time hours and remote working.

Issues arising from dual employment arrangements

It is now common for employees of international companies to move between different jurisdictions under dual employment arrangement (i.e. the employee continues to be employed in their host country whilst on "secondment" to a different jurisdiction).

However, many employers still fail to appreciate the legal implications of seconding an employee into a new jurisdiction or, alternatively, seek to "opt-out" (normally by agreement with the employee) of their obligations under the local laws of the new jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, in many jurisdictions it is not possible to validly contract out of local employment laws and so it is extremely important that employers obtain local legal advice to assess and, in some cases mitigate, the risk of an employee double-recovering contractual and statutory entitlements in multiple jurisdictions.

Global Employer Handbook

As the Employment Law Alliance representative for the UAE and Qatar, Clyde & Co has access to the Employment Law Alliance Global Employer Handbook, which contains a summary of the applicable employment laws across the world. If you are interested in receiving a copy of the Global Employer Handbook, please get in touch with your usual Clyde & Co contact.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.