Mon 05 Aug 2019

Employment law in the news - August 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.

The Big News

In terms of column inches the big news this month has been about women on company boards, pay equality, robots in the workplace and (as covered elsewhere in this month's ebulletin) the UK Government's action on gender equality.

The focus of the news on workplace robotics is a two year study looking into the rapidly changing industrial landscape and the benefits and dangers of robots in the UK workplace.  It is suggested that robots will lead to the loss of 20 million manufacturing jobs worldwide by 2030.

The news on women on boards is somewhat mixed.  The good news is that "more women than ever" were on company boards as evidenced in the Female FTSE Board Report 2019.  However, this was balanced with information gleaned from the Hampton-Alexander Reviews mid-year update which suggested too many FTSE firms were taking a "one and done" approach to women on boards.  The Female FTSE Board Report also highlighted that some firms were hiring women for symbolic reasons and that the average tenure of female executive directors in the UK was half of their male counterparts.  While that does paint a rather gloomy picture, the Hampton-Alexander Review suggests the FTSE 250 could meet the 33% target for women in senior leadership positions if current progress is maintained.

Equality of pay (or the lack of it) has appeared in a number of different guises in the last month.  Publication of the BBC's annual report showed that 3 women had moved into the top ten of BBC star's salaries  - Zoe Ball, Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz - but of the 75 stars earning more than £150,000 per annum 60% of them are male.  The corporation's overall gender pay gap was 6.7% - a reduction of 0.9% on last year.

Meanwhile a poll of 4,000 staff by YouGov published to coincide with Pride month found a pay gap of 16% between straight workers and their LGBT+ colleagues - that works out at an average of £6,703 less for the LGBT+ workers.  The study also found that transgender workers faced an income gap of 14% compared to their cisgender counterparts, the equivalent of £5,340 per annum.

Equal pay is a global issue and Megan Rapinoe, co-captain of the USA women's football team highlighted it in the aftermath of the team retaining the World Cup.  A chant of "equal pay" was heard at the football ground immediately after the match.

The Good News

Looking globally, California has been the first US state to ban discrimination over natural hairstyles.  The law prohibits employers and schools from enforcing rules against hairstyles including afros, braids, twists and locks.

And the rest….

ACAS has published its Annual Report and Accounts - headline statistics include a 21% increase in early conciliation notifications but only 27% of those notifications resulted in an employment tribunal claim.  This follows on from a report by the all party parliamentary group on whistleblowing which found that some whistleblowing claims can take between 18 and 36 months to reach a conclusion.

According to a study by the TUC and academics at the University of Hertfordshire the gig economy now accounts for 4.7million workers or about 10% of working age adults.  This has doubled in size in the last three years. 

Meanwhile a survey of office based workers across Europe has concluded that hot-desking harmed productivity (at least according to the workers who had to do it) with 83% of respondents saying noise levels were an issue.

There is rarely a month that goes by at the moment without non-disclosure agreements hitting the headlines and July was no different.  Not only are they the focus of a new television drama but there were also reports that a senior British establishment figure was given anonymity after accusations of sexual harassment and assault in an employment case.  The women involved signed gagging orders in return for large sums of money meaning the man, who denies the claims, cannot be named.  In the present climate this type of publicity will put further pressure on the UK Government to further regulate the use of non disclosure agreements.

And finally, as the global movement on climate change continues to grow, employers are being warned to prepare for the possibility of a walk out on 20 September as adults are called upon to support the school climate strikers. 

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