Tue 01 Oct 2019

Employment law in the news - October 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

The extension of workers' rights announced by Jeremy Corbyn has been one of the most talked about items of news in the last month and, separately, the amount of column inches given over to gender inequality and related issues, unfortunately, reflects the size of this ongoing problem.

Jeremy Corbyn has told the Trades Union Congress what a labour government would do for workers' rights should the party win an election. In addition to promising the biggest ever extension of workers' rights he also undertook to establish a ministry for employment rights and a workers protection agency if a Labour majority is secured. Plans include a real living wage of £10 per hour, banning unpaid internships and zero-hours contracts and a new civil enforcement system. A few days later the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell announced the party's intention to cut the average working week to 32 hours within the next decade and to set up a Working Time Commission with the power to increase statutory holiday entitlement.

Meanwhile a report by "think tank" Resolution Foundation has found illegal working practices are far too common. The report found that one in twenty workers (or approximately 1 million people) reportedly do not get paid holidays. Workers in the hotels and restaurant trade were most likely to miss out on workplace entitlements. The analysis was published to mark the start of a three year investigation into the enforcement of labour market rules and regulations.

Equally disappointing this month is news of the negative effect that the #MeToo movement has had on some women in the workplace, at least in the USA.  Men are reportedly avoiding women in the workplace for fear of allegations of harassment meaning some women miss out on jobs and promotions. 

The Good News

Particularly good news for those affected is that some businesses are now letting their employees set their own pay rise!  The initiative is described as the latest innovation for companies that want to attract the top talent with the most attractive employment terms. 

While the news on the gender pay gap this year (that it had improved by 0.1%) may not have been good, the EHRC has announced that there has been 100% compliance on gender pay gap reporting. Six companies were initially subject to formal investigations following their failure to report, but have now done so. 

Complaints related to dress codes are common place so it is good to see an attempt by Police Scotland to make their uniform more inclusive. The current standard issue police hats have different designs for men and women, but permission has now been given for all officers to wear baseball caps as an alternative, if they prefer, while a unisex hat design is considered.

For any parents out there who are struggling to get their kids to stop playing video games and do something more useful, it appears time spent on Fortnite might have some value after all.  Companies are apparently waking up to the skills gamers can bring to the workplace.  It seems employers are more open to the possibility that skills like problem solving and strategic planning honed through gaming can cross over to professional settings.

And the rest….

While it is usually a colleague or a trade union rep in the UK, one worker in New Zealand decided to bring a clown to his redundancy meeting.  And this wasn't a friend that he'd persuaded to dress up - it was a professional clown who charged him NZ$200 for attending.  The clown spent the meeting making balloon animals, though had to stop on a few occasions as it was too difficult to hear above the screeching of plastic.

While the flotation of WeWork's parent company WeCompany was recently suspended, employees of a company renting space in a WeWork building in Washington had a more immediate problem when they were unable to enter their office because an umbrella had fallen sideways jamming the door shut.  While they waited for WeWork to get an engineer (who had to drill a hole in the ceiling and lift the umbrella using wire) the co-workers had to make do with sharing one computer charger and spending 2 days watching the empty office from the hallway.

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