Top Takeaways from ‘Annual Update Employment’ seminars

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been delivering our Annual Employment Update seminars with Irwin Mitchell across South and West Yorkshire.

These seminars discussed the biggest talking points of 2018: looking at GDPR, gender pay gap, the “me too” movement and the gig economy. Followed by a prediction of the year ahead discussing the employment implications that Brexit may bring, changes in wages and what HR professionals need to do to prepare for the next 12 months.

A look back at 2018

GDPR

One of the main challenges businesses faced last year was the implementation of GDPR in May. In a nutshell, GDPR is the new law that enforces the protection of personal and identifiable information of all EU citizens by organisations operating within and outside of EU.

The issue that most businesses faced was how to tackle the consent of communication from the general public. But for HR professionals, GDPR caused some confusion when it came to employment contracts.

Eight months since GDPR changed the privacy landscape, the ICO still hasn’t published the fines employers can expect if employee data is mishandled.

GDPR has given employees more rights on how their data is handled by their employer. One crucial thing HR professionals need to recognise is that there has been a significant increase in the number of subject access requests. This is where employees have the right to find out what personal data is held about them by an organisation.

Gender Equality

Last year, the gender pay gap became a hot topic across the media. In April, companies with 250 or more employees had to publish a ‘Gender Pay Gap Report’ which showed their pay comparison between men and women across the organisation.

This report highlighted that almost eight in 10 companies and public-sector bodies pay men more than women. Across all the companies who published their results, it was found that the average pay gap was 9.7%.

Some household names faced huge claims from employees over pay disparities. Morrisons had a tribunal claim over equal pay which was estimated to cost the supermarket £1bn, along with ASDA and Tesco, both of which were summoned to employment court. Several councils across the UK were also accused of paying men more than women.

“Me too”

The “me too” movement was founded in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence but last year it went viral across the globe.

A number of assaults took place in 2018 including the alleged cases of Weinstein, Trump and R Kelly. These cases flooded the media and got everyone talking, from A-list celebrities on the red carpet to world leaders.

The “me too” campaign, highlighted the harassment and assault that takes place at work. In a BBC  survey, it was found that half of British women and a fifth of men have been sexually harassed at work or a place of study.

In 2018 there was a surge in the number of people who reported harassment allegations. However, the frequency of companies ‘turning a blind eye’ to the allegations, or even paying off victims to keep quiet, has risen.

Gig economy

With the rise of Uber and Deliveroo, the UK has become heavily reliant on the gig economy.  Over 1.1 million people work in the gig economy in the UK. However, last year saw workers battling over their employment status and job security as some employers tried to give them ‘self-employed’ status which meant that they would have had fewer rights.  

Uber was one of the biggest employers who went to court over this. They lost their right to classify UK drivers as ‘self-employed’ so Uber has to pay drivers holiday and sick pay.

In light of this, the Government announced new workplace reforms for zero-hour employees, agency employees or “gig economy” workers which gives them better protection. 

Under the new legislation, staff would have to be given the details of their rights from their first day in a job, including eligibility for paid and sick leave. Workers would also be given the right to request more predictable hours.

What will come in 2019

Brexit

On 29 March 2019, the UK is scheduled to exit the EU, but recent political turbulence is making it more difficult for organisations to make plans.

Currently, the UK operates under the EU employment rights which means there could be some changes to pay, parental leave, holidays and redundancy. 

There has already been a new immigration system rolled out outlining settled status applications for EU citizens who wish to stay in the UK after Brexit.

However, migration experts have warned that this post-Brexit system could become a new “Windrush scandal” as the scheme is estimated to register 3.5 million EU citizens who want to continue living in the UK.

The issue for HR professionals is that this may affect employment contracts and whether their employees are granted settled status. This can easily disrupt businesses that rely heavily on migrant workers such as the NHS, manufacturers and supply chains.

Wages

Both the National Living Wage and National Minimum Wage rates will increase in April 2019.

The National Living Wage, the effective minimum wage for people aged 25 or over, will rise to £8.21, up from £7.83 an hour now. For those 21 to 24, it will go up from £7.38 to £7.70.

Although, wage increases will help employees earn more, there is an implication that it can have a negative impact on businesses. In this competitive market, increased outgoings can put businesses at risk of closing, especially small businesses as they don’t have the financial stability of large organisations.

Preparing for the year ahead

This year will be challenging to plan for as there is no clear guidance on what we can expect.

Our Head of HR Practice, Sarah Barron says “2019 is set to be a challenging year for HR professionals in the UK. Not only are we trying to smooth out the process of leaving the EU, but there are still issues from last year which many businesses haven’t properly dealt with - GDPR, workplace harassment and the gender pay gap reporting.

Businesses need to ensure continued focus on these issues to avoid a backlog of reports and cases which means resources will be sparse and the quality of handling delicate employee cases will decrease. This is not something that many businesses can afford and will draw attention to negative employer experiences.”

Glenn Hayes, Employment Partner at Irwin Mitchell added “Brexit is dominating the legislative agenda and we don’t yet know whether the UK will leave the EU with or without a deal.

EU staff are already leaving the UK, exposing businesses to labour and skills shortages. Despite that uncertainty, we know what post-Brexit immigration is likely to look like and the steps businesses can take now to support and retain EU staff.

There are also some significant cases that will be decided this year which will impact businesses including decisions about calculating holiday pay, sleep in shifts, shared parental leave and when it’s appropriate to suspend someone suspected of misconduct.

Plus, many organisations will be publishing their gender pay gap data for the second year. If their figures haven’t shown any improvement, they will be put under pressure to explain what they are doing to narrow the gap.

That’s not as easy as it sounds and businesses need to put in place concrete, measurable and targeted actions to reduce their GPG.”

 

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