Rachel Lester is an Associate Solicitor from the Employment Department of Axiom DWFM, a full-service legal practice with offices in London (Edgware, Mayfair and Wigmore Street) and Birmingham.
In this column, she looks ahead to the implications for the world of work as lockdown restrictions are set to be lifted across Britain from July 19.
Whilst the removal of masks, remote working guidance and social distancing may herald a return to ‘normal life’, is it as simple as that?
The main impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been on the way we work. Working from home has now become the norm for many of us, and businesses will have to decide whether this should continue or whether some sort of hybrid arrangement should be permitted whereby staff can work more flexibly. This ultimately may become the default position under new legislation being considered by the government.
There are advantages to flexible working. There are likely to be fewer complaints about the safety of the workplace which will, in turn, reduce the number of legal claims. It will also avoid the headache of the vaccination and whether staff should be required to have the jab to do their job, a topical issue at the moment and one that the Government has now mandated on in relation to care home staff in England. Businesses are also likely to face more requests for flexible working and will find it difficult to resist these when businesses have been operating successfully remotely. Separately, Liz Truss, the Minister for Women & Equalities, has called on employers to make flexible working a standard option for employees to help boost employment in areas outside major cities and increase opportunities for women, who are twice as likely as men to work flexibly.
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However, for businesses that press ahead with a compulsory return to the office, health and safety measures that should remain in place will need to be considered as well as variations to employment contracts to facilitate such measures, such as staggered start and finish times. All contractual variations require the consent of their staff.
Practical considerations such as when staff can take holiday will also need to be managed. Of course, certain businesses, such as those in the hospitality sector, will have to decide whether staff can return at all if they are struggling financially. And the easing of lockdown is unlikely to change their economic prospects, particularly with the support they receive from the Furlough scheme set to end in September. To avoid claims, a business should ensure they follow a fair redundancy process which attracts additional duties and obligations if those potentially redundant exceed 20.
Above all, businesses should be alive to the following developments that have taken effect since April this year:
Compensation limits for certain tribunal awards and payments such as statutory redundancy pay and the national minimum wage increased on 6th April 2021
The rules on off-payroll working in the private sector took effect from 6 April 2021 to counter non-compliance with IR35. These have shifted the compliance burden from the worker's personal service company to the medium and large "client" organisations that they work for
Public Health England issued new shielding guidance on 1st April 2021. Those categorised as extremely clinically vulnerable no longer have to shield nor are eligible for SSP or similar benefits
New health and safety regulations have extended protection from detriment taking place on or after 31st May 2021 from employees to workers
Employers will be required to contribute 12.5% of capped furlough pay from 1st July and 25% from 1st August until the Furlough scheme ends on 30th September
The deadline for gender pay gap reporting, delayed because of the pandemic, is now 5th October 2021
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With all the changes ahead, businesses and their staff should tread carefully and seek specialist legal advice from the employment team at Axiom DWFM where appropriate.
Currently, the employment team is instructed on a variety of different matters for clients including advice on IR35 and the settlement of disputes, the drafting of contractual documentation and settlement agreements and litigation before the Employment Tribunal for both Claimants and Respondents.
Rachel Lester qualified as a solicitor in January 1999, following the completion of her law degree at King’s College London. Since September 2000, she has specialised in employment law and has acquired extensive experience in private practice and in-house for Government.
She is an Associate in our Employment department, and handles a wide variety of contentious and non-contentious matters for employers and employees alike, with a particular interest in negotiating the settlement of claims as an alternative to litigation where this is necessary and appropriate.
Recent cases of note include Employment Tribunal proceedings for pregnancy and race discrimination where she acted in each case for the successful Claimant.
by Rachel Lester
Rachel Lester, an Associate in the Employment Department of Axiom DWFM, qualified as a solicitor in 1999 following the completion of her law degree at King’s College London. Since September 2000, she has specialised in employment law and has acquired extensive experience in private practice and in-house for government. Her Recent cases of note include Employment Tribunal proceedings for pregnancy and race discrimination, where she acted in each case for the successful Claimant.
*Info: For legal advice and further information, please contact Rachel: Rachel.Lester@axiomstone.co.uk
**Note: the information contained in this article is accurate at the time of publication in July 2021. The remarks in this article are not a substitute for legal advice on the specific circumstances of any case.