Photo of Joanna Powis

Potential reform of the statutory flexible working regime has been on the agenda for several years but finally, after a consultation first launched in autumn 2021, the UK government has announced its intention to bring about some changes. Legislation will need to be introduced, and the timescale for that is currently unknown, but employers in England, Wales and Scotland will need to be prepared to review and amend their flexible working policies and procedures to ensure they comply with the new requirements.

Contrary to some headlines, the changes do not introduce flexible working as the default position.  The reforms fall short of flexibility being the starting point (i.e. only to be deviated from if there was a good reason) and instead retain the current principle that there is a right to request flexible working, but no right to work flexibly. This means that, like now, employers will still be able to turn down requests if there is a good business reason for doing so or if eligibility criteria are not met. The eight business reasons for rejecting requests (the burden of additional costs; detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; inability to reorganise work among existing staff; inability to recruit additional staff; detrimental impact on quality; detrimental impact on performance; insufficiency of work during the periods they propose to work; or planned structural changes) will remain the same.

Continue Reading Flexible working reforms: what do UK employers need to know?

In mid-October 2022, Parliament has debated, for the first time, a proposal to implement a four-day working week in the UK. The bill, proposed by Labour, would reduce maximum working hours per week to 32 with no corresponding reduction in pay. Whilst it is unlikely that the bill will get very far (it is not supported by the government), it marks an interesting development in the case for a four-day working week, which is continuing to gain momentum.

In the UK, this increasing momentum is currently focused on a major six-month trial run by 4 Day Week Global involving over 3,000 employees across 70 organisations. The trial involves employees working 80% of their contractual hours for 100% pay with the expectation of achieving 100% productivity. Whilst the trial isn’t due to end until December 2022, the mid-term reported results are positive, with the majority of the companies which responded to the interim survey saying it worked for their businesses and 86% saying they planned to continue with a four-day working week after the trial.

Continue Reading Is a four-day working week the future for UK employers?

On 23 September 2022, the new Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, unveiled the Growth Plan 2022 detailing the UK government’s set of economic policies aimed at, as the name suggests, boosting economic growth in the UK by improving competition and improving living standards by allowing people to retain more income. Much has been said in recent days on the merits and dangers of the plan and whilst we have seen an immediate impact on the value of the pound, it remains to be seen whether in the longer term the plan meets its aims and supports the country in navigating the likely impending recession. In the meantime, we summarise below the key elements of the plan from a UK employment perspective:

  • National Insurance cuts: On 6 April 2022, national insurance contributions (NICs) were increased by 1.25 percentage points, with a plan that this would make way for a new health and social care levy at the same level from April 2023. These have now both been scrapped. The NIC increase will be reversed from November 2022 and the health and social care levy will no longer be introduced next year. This is intended to make it cheaper for employers to employ staff, and allow more workers to keep more of what they earn.
  • Income tax cuts: The basic rate of income tax will reduce by 1 percentage point, from 20% to 19%, from April 2023, a year earlier than planned, and the highest income tax band of 45% for income over £150,000 is being abolished, again from April 2023. As with the NIC changes, this is intended to enable workers to retain more of their earnings.It is also hoped that the abolition of the top income tax band will attract more high earning talent to the UK.
  • Banker bonuses: A cap on banker’s bonuses was introduced by the EU following the 2008 financial crisis as it was believed that unlimited bonuses encouraged high-risk taking behaviour, and that a cap would limit the behaviour, which resulted in the crash. However, the cap came in for criticism for pushing up base salaries and bank’s fixed costs without allowing for adjustment for financial performance. Following Brexit, and the UK’s freedom to depart from the EU rules, that cap (of up to 2 times fixed salary) is now being removed. The thinking is that without the cap, the UK can be more competitive globally, being able to align pay practices with other markets, promoting UK economic growth, and to allow the UK to attract and retain talent in the UK.


Continue Reading UK Employment Law: key messages from the UK Government’s Growth Plan

The Supreme Court has delivered its ruling on the landmark Pimlico Plumbers case, upholding previous decisions that an ostensibly ‘self employed’ plumber was in fact properly classified as a ‘worker’ with valuable employment rights under UK law (including discrimination protection and holiday pay). The case has been closely monitored because of its impact on organisations

A year after the introduction of the business reporting obligation in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 we take a look at the approach taken to statements to date and possible future developments in this area.

Introduction

Modern slavery and human trafficking are two of the biggest human rights challenges of our time. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 seeks to tackle these issues in a number of ways, including imposing a requirement on organisations carrying out a business (or part of a business) in the UK, and with a turnover of £36 million or more, to publish an annual modern slavery statement.

The statement must detail the steps the organisation is taking to ensure that modern slavery and human trafficking are not present in its business or global supply chains. The statement must be signed by a director and a link to the statement must be included in a prominent place on the organisation’s website homepage. Companies with a year end of 31 March should already have published their statement, whereas those with a 31 December year end are due to publish in the first half of 2017, giving the latter the advantage of being able to review and benchmark their statements against those already published.

For background on the reporting requirement in the Act, please see our blog post of October 2015.

One year on, the question is what approach are companies taking to their Modern Slavery Act statements, how much interest have the press and consumer groups shown on this topic and what does this say about the initial success of the reporting obligation?

Continue Reading Modern Slavery Business Reporting: Beyond Compliance

At the start of July, in just one of the ever stranger twists and turns taken by the UK’s main political parties this summer, Andrea Leadsom was caught in a storm of questions about the true nature of her 25-year track record in the City of London. The pressure eventually led her campaign team to

With instances of whistleblowing hitting the press on an ever-increasing basis, does UK law do enough to protect employees who blow the whistle on their employer’s wrongdoing? According to a new report published by the international NGO, Blueprint for Free Speech, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation (the “Report”), the answer to this question is a resounding no. The Report identifies a number of deficiencies in the current statutory regime and argues that the UK falls short of international standards. It goes on to propose 10 urgent reforms and 10 further recommendations.

Background

Whistleblowing occurs when a worker reports or exposes (in most instances to his/her employer, but potentially also to the appropriate regulator or even the press) certain wrongdoing or malpractice in the workplace. English law provides certain protection against victimisation and dismissal related to whistleblowing. Since June 2013, workers – to be protected – must have a reasonable belief that the disclosure is “in the public interest”.
Continue Reading Protecting Whistleblowers in the UK – Is the Law Sufficient?

On 1 October 2016, regulations are expected to come into force in the UK which will require large private and voluntary sector employers to report annually on gender pay gap information. To give employers time to get to grips with the new obligation, the Government is expected to set 29 April 2018 as the deadline for the first report. However, with a lot of work to do to prepare, this is not as far away as it seems – particularly given that companies will be required to report on bonuses paid for a 12-month period which started 1 May 2016.

We explain below what employers should be doing now to get their house in order and to ensure they are ready to report on time and in a way which promotes and protects their businesses.
Continue Reading Gender Pay Gap Reporting – Why It Matters Now

The UK Government has published new guidance for employers regarding the recruitment and retention of transgender staff. Its stated aim is to make sure employers are equipped to create an inclusive culture for all of their staff and act as a practical guide for managers. The guidance emphasises that there is a strong business case for employers to get this right, as diverse skills are important for employers in all sectors and there is a wealth of research to show that workplaces that are more inclusive are also more productive.

The guidance makes clear that a person can change gender with or without medical intervention and the guidance applies in both scenarios. This reflects discrimination legislation under which there is no requirement for medical diagnosis or treatment in order to gain protection against discrimination on the grounds of gender reassignment.

The guidance sets out good practice in relation to recruitment procedures, application processes, equality monitoring and HR procedures – as well as advice on how organisations can make sure they present themselves as an inclusive employer on their websites and other branding. The guidance also covers advice on inducting and retaining transgender employees, including specific help for employers around supporting a member of staff who is planning to transition.

Some practical tips from this guidance are as follows:

Continue Reading Guidance on the Recruitment and Retention of Transgender Staff in the UK