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Changes to employers’ obligations and employment law updates - Matthew Clayton of Willans LLP

By Matthew Clayton, partner and head of employment law & business immigration at Willans LLP solicitors 

Several key changes have recently been announced in the world of employment law with more changes on the horizon for employers and HR teams to be aware of, explains Matthew Clayton.

Flexible working requests

Last week the government announced a consultation on plans to give all employees the right to request flexible working from day one, not just after six months of employment. 

It seems employers would still be able legally to turn down requests on the same basis as currently (albeit within a shorter timescale). 

However, that will undoubtedly be more difficult to do in practice, now that home working and hybrid working have proved so successful and popular.

It remains to be seen whether this proposed change will make a difference, or whether it is happening in practice already. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) comments that staff should just be given the legal right to work flexibly, without any right of refusal on the part of the employer.

Our employment law team will be discussing this and other developments in our employment law update webinar on October 6. If you are an employer, senior manager with HR responsibilities or work in HR, join us for our annual update. Find out more, it's free to tune into our webinar. 

The end of furlough - is hope on the horizon?

The number of notified collective redundancies is currently at a seven-year low, according to data published recently by the Insolvency Service. The continued decline in these numbers suggests that redundancy and unemployment levels may well not be as high as many had anticipated when the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme finally ends on September 30, 2021.

Indeed, many employers are reporting having to continue to deal with staff shortages, with the lack of qualified HGV drivers having been prominent in the national press.

June 2020 saw the highest number of notified collective redundancies (155,576) since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. That had dropped to 31,946 by January 2021, and to 12,687 by August 2021 - down more than 90 per cent since last year's peak.

The latest Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme statistics show that there were 1.9 million furloughed workers on June 30, 2021.

It is tempting to hope this data suggests that when the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ends on September 30, many of those currently furloughed may not actually be facing unemployment, since the collective consultation process would have needed to start by September 1 at the latest, if redundancies were to take effect immediately on the end of the scheme.

Of course, this does not rule out the possibility that some employers would start the consultation process later, with a view to the redundancies taking effect some time after 30 September. It also does not take into account the possibility of a large number of smaller-scale redundancy exercises taking place, where collective consultation for a minimum of 30 days is not required by law and hence not reported in the figures.

We must also remember that a lack of collective redundancies does not automatically mean a healthy employment market. Many of those currently furloughed will be coming back to low-paid and/or insecure jobs in the hospitality industry, and others will be working in temporary roles having previously been made redundant from more permanent employment during the pandemic.

So, whilst there is reason to be cautiously optimistic, we should remember that these are difficult times for many employees and employers.

Willans' employment lawyers will be discussing these topics and other updates at their annual employment law update webinar which is taking place on October 6. It is free to attend, register your interest here or visit willans.co.uk/events to see other webinars in this series.

For anything else concerning employment law or business immigration, contact Matthew Clayton on 01242 514000 or email matthew.clayton@willans.co.uk.

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