As a practice development lawyer , I keep myself and the team up to date with the latest legal developments, research tricky issues and obscure cases and help to organise our knowledge resources. I also write articles for publication and standard documents for my colleagues to use in their work (such as contracts and policies). When I’m not at work, I’m often reading nineteenth-century novels.
Employment law in the UK is a fast-changing area, with developments stemming from new Government legislation, court judgements and the requirement to implement EU law. I help colleagues keep on top of the changes as they happen. I also write articles for client publications on new employment law developments and their practical implications.
I am involved in organising and implementing systems for cataloguing and preserving the ‘know how’ the lawyers in the team create and use when advising clients. We try to avoid reinventing the wheel by making sure useful knowledge is stored and easily accessible. Without these systems, in a department of around 90 lawyers, information would soon be lost without trace.
My extensive practical experience includes a two-year secondment in the legal department of a large energy and petro-chemical multinational. I am also involved in various projects with Ius Laboris, the alliance of international employment law firms, such as a glossary of international employment law terms and an international employment law guide.
Zeroing in on zero hours contracts
Zero-hours contracts have been much in the news lately. There could be around one million zero-hours workers in the UK.
TUPE reforms implemented
Significant changes to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) come into force on 31 January 2014 and with some exceptions apply to transfers occurring on or after that date.
The state of migration: employing migrant workers
Practice Development Lawyers Samar Shams and Bethan Carney, have contributed to a report for The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) which explores the trends and the factors that influence employers in recruiting migrant workers.
The report discusses issues such as skills shortages, the availability of UK-born workers, and ‘work ethic’.
The Court of Appeal recently found that it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of a mistaken perception that they have a progressive condition which would make them unable to perform the full functions of a role in future. This decision confirms that the test is not whether the discriminator believes that the impairment meets the legal definition of 'disability', but whether they believe that it has those features. However, beyond this point, the case has raised some difficult issues.
The Court of Appeal has decided that care workers carrying out so-called 'sleep-in' shifts are not entitled to the national minimum wage for the whole shift, but rather only when they are required to be awake and working. In so ruling, the court has overturned various earlier decisions of the Employment Appeal Tribunal and contradictory guidance from Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, which would have exposed the care sector to claims for arrears of pay worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
Over the past few months, the United Kingdom has gone from shivering in sub-zero temperatures to experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. Although the sun may be more welcome than the snow, it can still cause headaches for employers. As such, there are a number of factors that they should keep in mind when the mercury starts rising.
Media outlets have reported that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has initiated a crackdown on unpaid internships, including sending letters warning that workers must be paid the national minimum wage and setting up teams to tackle the problem. Organisations that fail to pay the minimum wage to interns who are workers may be penalised and the individuals could bring claims for back pay.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal recently upheld the Employment Tribunal decision that drivers engaged by Uber are workers rather than independent contractors. The decision has been eagerly awaited by human resource and employment practitioners seeking guidance on how to apply the test for worker status properly in the context of gig economy businesses. However, the judgment is highly fact-specific and other cases concerning gig economy businesses may not be decided in the same way.
The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that the legislation requiring fees to be paid for bringing employment tribunal claims is unlawful and should be quashed. In one of the most remarkable employment law judgments of recent times, the court held that employment tribunal fees interfere unjustifiably with the right to access to justice and discriminate unlawfully against women.
A recent Employment Appeal Tribunal decision concerning paid annual leave was referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). If followed by the ECJ, the advocate general opinion in King v The Sash Window Workshop Ltd will extend employers' liabilities in a new direction by requiring that they must provide an "adequate facility" for workers to exercise their right to paid leave.
The government recently launched two new consultations on reforms to the employment tribunal system and on work, health and disability. The proposed changes to tribunals are part of a wider programme of court reform intended to modernise claims handling, streamline access to justice and reduce costs. The green paper on work, health and disability is designed to help the government to comprehend why people with disabilities or long-term health conditions may struggle to find or keep a job.
The House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee recently launched an inquiry into corporate governance and executive pay following new Prime Minister Theresa May's declaration that the gap between executive and workers' pay is "unhealthy". The committee also intends to explore proposals on worker representation on boards and remuneration committees.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised that he will renegotiate the conditions of the United Kingdom's EU membership and put the new terms to the public in an 'in-out' referendum in 2017. If he makes it that far, what will happen to all EU-derived employment law that has become entrenched in the UK legal system, including discrimination rights, holiday entitlement, duties to agency workers and data protection obligations?
On September 18 2014 the people of Scotland will vote on whether their nation should be an independent country. An independent Scotland would most likely be cautious about making abrupt changes. However, over time certain employment laws would most likely be adapted or abandoned, meaning that Scotland's employment law landscape might evolve to be quite different from that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Significant changes to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) recently came into force. Overall, the changes should introduce welcome flexibility for employers, particularly where they need to change workers' terms and conditions or implement redundancies in a transfer scenario. However, the reforms seem unlikely to resolve many of TUPE's inherent complexities.