What were the most significant employment law developments in 2019? What can be expected in 2020 under a newly elected Conservative government with a sizeable majority? Despite Brexit continuing to dominate the political agenda in 2019, there were significant decisions in the courts and proposals for reform. Looking ahead to 2020, various Good Work Plan reforms will come into effect and the government plans to introduce a new Employment Bill, paving the way for further employment law reforms.
In a surprise decision, with potentially wide-ranging ramifications, an employment tribunal has found that workers, as well as traditional employees, transfer under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006. The decision is employment tribunal level only, so it has no binding precedent weight and may be appealed. Nonetheless, it raises some immediate practical considerations.
In the face of undoubtedly strong feelings on both sides of the Brexit debate, questions are likely to arise regarding the implications of employees bringing their Brexit views into the workplace. Specifically, are there potential discrimination risks and could a strong belief regarding Brexit count as a philosophical belief for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010?
Despite the dominance of Brexit, employment issues are one of the main election battlegrounds for all of the major political parties. There is a particular focus on current hot topics, including insecure work and the gig economy, the gender (and other) pay gaps and new mechanisms for enforcing employment rights. This article covers the key employment measures that have been proposed by the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Scottish National Party.
The Court of Appeal has refused an application by British Airways plc for an injunction to restrain strike action by airline pilots, thereby ruling that the trade union provided sufficient detail as to the categories of employee to be balloted under the statutory rules. The ruling provides useful clarification for unions and employers when they are respectively drafting and supervising industrial action ballot notices.
The Supreme Court recently ruled that judges are workers under whistleblowing legislation and are thus protected from being treated badly for making a protected disclosure. In the case at hand, the court agreed that the judge did not obviously fall within the definition of a 'worker' because she did not work under a contract, which would mean that she was not protected by whistleblowing laws. However, the court decided that this failed to protect her human rights – specifically, the right to freedom of expression.
Confidentiality clauses or non-disclosure agreements have become a topic of significant interest because of how they can be used to prevent employees from reporting allegations of sexual harassment or other similar misconduct. The government recently published its response to a consultation on the regulation of confidentiality clauses, which sets out a number of proposals for new legislation in this area.
A recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case clearly underlines that, on a Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) transfer, new employers must ensure that all records kept by the transferor in relation to the national minimum wage are transferred when it takes over the employees (especially as such records are likely to be held electronically). The transferor's refusal or failure to provide the records should be dealt with by way of indemnities or other contractual provisions in the transfer documentation.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) recently ordered an employer to disclose comments that it had received from its external solicitor relating to an employee's dismissal because it had deliberately disclosed other related privileged documents which were helpful to its case. Interestingly, this case is one of the few where the EAT has had to grapple with issues relating to privilege. It is also a strong reminder that employers that make a tactical decision to waive privilege must be aware of the potential ramifications.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) recently published its recommendations for eliminating class-based bias in society. Its report points to a number of statistics demonstrating that working-class individuals suffer disadvantage in the employment sphere. As such, the TUC has proposed (among other things) the introduction of compulsory class pay gap reporting for all employers.
During the Trades Union Congress conference in early September 2019, the Labour Party announced plans for a new Workers' Protection Agency and Ministry for Employment Rights. In particular, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn promised the biggest ever extension of employment rights in the United Kingdom, designed to put power in the hands of workers. Other Labour Party proposals include expanding 'worker' status to everybody except genuinely self-employed persons.
The Court of Appeal has held that holiday entitlement and pay for workers on permanent contracts should not be prorated to reflect the fact that they work on a part-year basis. In light of this decision, employers using set percentages to calculate holiday pay should consider auditing their workers on permanent contracts to ensure that these fixed rates do not result in them receiving less than their statutory entitlement.
A report by the Women and Equalities Committee has recommended a fundamental shift in the way in which discrimination claims are brought so that individuals do not carry the burden of enforcing their rights. The report urges the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to bring more cases and better publicise its enforcement work so that employers and other organisations are not complacent about equality.
In the United Kingdom's first appeal case on the operation of a European works council, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has ruled that European works councils cannot slow down managerial decision making by delaying the provision of an opinion after being informed and consulted. The EAT's decision is unsurprising but nonetheless welcome for employers.
As part of a flurry of responses and new consultations issued in the last days of Theresa May's government, the response to the consultation on measures to prevent the misuse of confidentiality clauses in the workplace was published. It sets out a number of significant legislative proposals which, when implemented, will necessitate redrafting of these clauses in both employment contracts and settlement agreements.
What might a no-deal Brexit mean for UK employment rights? What could employers do now to prepare? And what might the future hold in a no-deal scenario? Prime Minister Boris Johnson is clear that he would be prepared to leave the European Union without a deal if necessary and the current legislation commits the United Kingdom to leaving the European Union at 11:00pm on 31 October 2019. Thus, it seems like a good time to revisit the employment law implications of a no-deal Brexit for employers.
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 EU Work-Life Balance Directive introduces new rights for carers and working parents. If the United Kingdom needs to comply (or if it chooses to do so), UK employers must make several changes to their existing family leave and pay framework. For example, although the United Kingdom provides a right to paternity leave and pay, both rights are currently subject to a six-month service requirement. To comply with the directive, the service requirement for paternity leave (although not pay) would need to be scrapped.
The Court of Appeal recently ruled that offers made directly by an employer to its employees in relation to pay and working hours did not amount to an unlawful attempt to bypass collective bargaining contrary to Section 145B of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. As such, a cautious approach remains sensible given the punitive fines if an employer goes too far in its offers to employees.
The government is committed to cracking down on disguised employment. In order to achieve this, the IR35 rules will change from April 2020. The IR35 rules apply where contractors personally provide services via an intermediary. However, if the contractor is directly engaged, they would be considered an employee or office holder for tax purposes. The changes will also apply to more complex labour chains, so an early understanding of the labour supply chain is critical.