Wed 03 Apr 2019

Employment law in the news - April 2019

In our regular slot we look at the key cases and other employment law issues that have made the news headlines over the past few weeks.

We start this month with the news that Virgin Atlantic has removed a long standing rule that female cabin crew must wear make up while on duty. And while that was the change that grabbed the headlines, arguably the more significant change was that they will also be automatically offering trousers to female cabin crew as well as the red skirt.  This follows in the foot steps of BA who abandoned the no trouser rule in 2016, though they still require make up to be worn.

And it seems airlines are not the only industry to be promoting a more relaxed attitude to dress code with more businesses thinking the way to attract and retain staff is to move away from the suit and tie.  As views on what is acceptable change perhaps the sensible way forward is to ask staff simply to exercise good judgement, as Goldman Sachs have done recently, when it comes to deciding what to wear.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, marked International Women's Day by highlighting that employing more women and tackling sexism in the workplace is the key to making the world economy richer.  Recent IMF research showed that countries ranked in the bottom 50% for gender equality could increase the size of their economy by 35% on average if they tackled the problem.

Meanwhile the PwC Women in Work Index, which analyses the representation and welfare of women in the world of work across 33 OECD countries has found that Scotland has once again headed the UK in terms of representation of women in the workplace.  The UK as a whole rose to 13th place but Scotland ranked above the UK average in two of the five metrics used to assess the position of each country and equal in a further two.

Another (four day) week, another study showing it is possible to cut down full time hours while increasing productivity.  Analysis of a trial carried out by Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand who switched from a five to four day week in November 2018 has revealed no fall in output, reduced stress and increased staff engagement. 

Can technology encourage people to report harassment in the workplace?  The #MeToo movement has inspired tech companies to create apps designed to encourage those who have been harassed to speak up.  However, while the inventors claim taking the human face of HR out of the picture will lead to better evidence being collected, it remains to be seen whether that actually empowers people to submit the report to their employer.

Momentum continues to build behind ethnic pay gap reporting with prominent businesses committing to working towards mandatory reporting and encouraging other businesses to do the same.  The big names that are signed up include the Bank of England, Deloitte, EY, KPMG and ITN who already voluntarily publish ethnicity pay gap data, as well as Lloyd's of London and BUPA.

According to the TUC, 5 million employees in the UK did more than 2 billion hours of unpaid overtime last year.  This apparently equates to working for the whole of January and February for nothing, with 1 March being "Work Your Proper Hours Day".  According to the statistics teachers and lawyers work the most unpaid hours per week.

And finally, following on from the news last month that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had cut its parental leave from a year to six months comes reports that the investment bank BNY Mellon has scrapped its flexible working policy.  UK employees have been told that they will need to be at their desks for normal office hours unless otherwise agreed.  The company says it is looking to "maximise the benefits of people working closely together".

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