By Aisha Shahid, trainee solicitor at Legal Futures Associate Bhayani Law
1. Flexible working
The UK government ran a consultation from September to December 2021 on making flexible working the “default position”. The government set out several proposals including:
- Flexible working becoming a ‘day one’ right for all employees,
- Maintain the basic system involving a conversation between the employer and employee about balancing work requirements and individual needs, and
- Possible reasons why a business may refuse a flexible working request and how an employee may appeal this.
Some developing themes workplaces may continue to see in 2022, include:
- Requests from employees to work remotely abroad
- Impact on wellbeing due to home working
- “Right to disconnect” following the discovery of hidden overtime working from home during the pandemic
We recommend that you have a detailed flexible working policy and working from home policy that you keep under regular review. We have seen employees leave roles to seek out flexible employment opportunities elsewhere so you may want to reconsider your long term position on flexible working and recruitment strategies.
We can provide you with template policies and help you design and think through a flexible working policy that will work for your business.
2. Vaccinations at work
Following the UK Government’s consultation, the Department of Health and Social Care responded by confirming that mandatory vaccinations would be required in the Health and Care sector for those who have face-to-face contact with patients and service users unless an exemption applies. These regulations will come into force on 1 April 2022 after a 12-week grace period.
In other industries, businesses recognise the importance of ensuring a safe workplace and are including policies to allow their employees the time to get vaccinated, where possible. We have already seen in the last few weeks where businesses are cutting sick pay for unvaccinated employees in light of excessive absences over the festive period in 2021 (see our update here).
Any change of policy that puts unvaccinated employees at a disadvantage needs to be carefully considered. An employee’s vaccination status may be linked to a disability, pregnancy, religion, a philosophical belief, or race, all of which are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010. Taking this into account, the onus is on the employer to ensure they objectively justify every individual case to avoid any potential claims for unfair dismissal and/or discrimination claims.
We have helped many businesses successfully devise and implement new sick pay policies and vaccination policies and can advise on and tailor a policy that is right for your business.
3. New duty to prevent sexual harassment
The UK government has responded following the 2019 consultation on workplace sexual harassment that there should be a new duty for employers to prevent sexual and/or third-party harassment (related to customers and suppliers). It is expected to include a defence where an employer has taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent sexual and/or third-party harassment.
In addition, the government will deliberate the proposal to extend the time limit for claims under the Equality Act 2010 from the current 3 months, but there has not been confirmation of any imminent changes.
We strongly advise that you have an Equality and Diversity Policy that is regularly reviewed and updated. To use the defence that you have taken all reasonable steps means that you must show that employees have regular, up to date and meaningful equality and diversity training.
We can provide you with a suite of Equality and Diversity Policies as well as reviewing and updating your existing policies. We also provide bespoke Equality and Diversity Training which we can tailor to your business.