In April 2020, we put together an "eight-point plan" for businesses to use when considering their strategy planning for the future world of work. Throughout 2020, we focussed our briefings and webinars around those very pertinent topics and that plan now contains a full set of links to useful resources.
At the time, we noted that businesses would be considering what their "exit strategy" in a post-furlough world should be. As it turned out, the furlough scheme was to be extended for more than a year; many business were, again, forced to shut; new rules were implemented regarding Covid-secure workplaces; and questions over rapid testing and vaccinating employees are now on every employer's mind.
We also noted that there were positives to be taken from the changes which were forced upon us in March 2020, including new ways of working flexibly, the accelerated use of technology and a focus on environmental and social issues. However, even those positive changes come with a raft of legal questions.
The ever-changing legal landscape in relation to employees continues, resulting in new and modified considerations for employers. We are therefore running a series of webinars and publications once more, with the first taking place on 18 March 2021, focussing on managing your workforce in the context of vaccines, testing, face masks and remote working.
What are the key considerations to ensure your business is fit for purpose and prepared, both now and in the future? Here are our new eight points for consideration:
- Rapid testing, face masks and other Covid-secure policies – The first unfair dismissal case for an employee's refusal to wear a face mask at work has recently been reported; and more such cases are expected. While the dismissal in this case was held to be fair, employers must remember that tribunal decisions are: (a) first instance decisions and therefore not binding on subsequent cases; and (b) are fact sensitive. In addition, many employers have now signed up to the Government's rapid lateral testing programme, which requires consideration of a number of legal implications including health and safety, data protection and reasonable management instructions.
- Mandatory vaccination policies– The "no jab, no job" mantra is gaining traction. Is it a reasonable instruction? Will such policies open up a raft of discrimination claims? We have provided some initial thoughts in our recent article, but this will be a developing topic and requires careful consideration and examination of employment and equality laws.
- "Work from anywhere" –We have seen many employers implementing new practices or policies, giving staff the flexibility that they may never have considered prior to the pandemic. Equally, this has given employers the ability to recruit from further afield, tapping into a wider pool of talent. However, remote and flexible working has numerous legal implications including employee monitoring, management instructions, working hours and taxation.
- What is "employment" and how are roles changing? The Uber judgment has brought employment status back into the spotlight. In addition, IR35 changes are fundamentally changing the way in which contractors can be engaged, read our previous article. This throws into question how new business models, particularly those using technology, can effectively work. Now is the time for employers to audit their workforce and consider if people are correctly classified.
- Diversity and inclusion – Many companies globally have expressed their commitment to equality and diversity in light of the Black Lives Matter movement which was re-energised in 2020. In addition, the recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case of Allay v Gehlen has once again emphasised that an equality policy and "stale" training is not enough – employers will be liable for discriminatory acts where sufficient steps to prevent them have not been taken. Now is the time to take clear and constructive action on diversity, equality and inclusion practices.
- Environmental, social and governance – "ESG" is the new hot topic, not just as a means of creating good employee relations, but also for the benefit of employers and investors. In particular, green employee benefits are set to become very important, and we are hosting a number of events on the topic. On the social side of matters, we are arguably now entering (or are already in) a mental health crises, partially as a result of multiple lockdowns and continued uncertainty. Employers therefore need to consider how this long-term impact on mental health will affect their staff and resources
- Robots as employees; technology, automation and people– A report by Confederation of British Industry suggests that nine out of ten employees will need to reskill by 2030 – that's a big figure. While the robot revolution might not necessarily result in mass redundancies, what does seem clear is that different skills will be needed. As a result, there will be a focus on changing job roles, re-training and apprenticeships. In addition, the law on regulation and accountability of technology inevitably needs to develop, particularly in relation to the issue of biased or discriminatory artificial intelligence.
- Post-Brexit employment, travel and movement of people – While we haven't yet seen the full impact of Brexit on movement of people given ongoing Covid travel restrictions, we are seeing numerous queries regarding business visits to the UK. Brexit has fundamentally changed business travel between the UK and Europe and this is fast becoming a key legal issue for HR professionals. This also plays into the "work from anywhere" piece and will undoubtedly be a key consideration for employers when investing in people.
Our publications and webinar series will focus on the above topics (and inevitably much more!). Sign up to the first in our series on 18 March 2021.
Visit our Future World of Work hub.
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.