Business and People Strategy and Performance

HRD Briefing 2021: Employment Law and Policy

  • January 15, 2021
Ian Hunter | Partner, London and Co-Head of International HR Services | Bird & Bird
Pattie Walsh | Partner, Hong Kong, International HR Services | Bird & Bird

Five things HR Directors should know about employment law and policy:

1 EMPLOYMENT LAWS ARE LIKELY TO CHANGE TO REFLECT NEW WORKING REALITIES

They will also adapt to meet the shift in expectations of employers from society and staff that the workplace reflects the rapid societal changes. The trend towards atypical working has accelerated and employment laws have not kept pace – even before Covid-19 the Taylor report in the UK indicated that a rethink was necessary with regard to the legal protection for those in work. This rethink is likely to be more extensive as a result of the pandemic. Homeworking and rapid digitisation in some sectors is likely to lead to new health and safety rules (with particular regard to protecting mental health), right to work from home regulations and more protection for casual workers against dismissal as the threat of redundancy increases.

2 MORE EMPLOYEE CLASS ACTIONS

We are starting to see more employee claims backed by well organised and focussed group litigation funds. They are moving onto the ground traditionally occupied by Trade Unions and their favoured law firms. Typical group claims include Holiday Pay, Equal Pay and Data Privacy claims. The potential claims could run into hundreds of millions. It is important to think now about the degree of compliance and non-compliance and the strategy to adopt. Such claims may become a significant factor when conducting due diligence on major acquisitions.

3 EMPLOYEE ACTIVISM IS GROWING

Employees increasingly have the ability to organise and communicate virtually. Employers will need to think about the best strategy to deal with such activity. This will involve a complex balance between providing space for open debate and employee engagement demanded by the top talent and protecting the business and its reputation. Policies and practices from social media to codes of conduct and response plans when things go wrong will be key priorities.

4 DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION WILL REMAIN AT THE TOP OF THE AGENDA

Developing global policies which comply with differing, and in some cases conflicting, legal and cultural norms across the globe will be a challenge – but one which must be addressed in the battle to attract and retain the best talent. The challenges of collecting and managing data in this area will be only one aspect of the ever-increasing issue of HR data and its strategic importance to the business.

5 PROTECTION OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Trade secrets and the protection of the business and its intellectual capital will be even more important in challenging and changing times. The combination of the rapid switch to home working for so many employees, working across locations and often using personal workarounds well outside of IT policy, and the heightened need to protect the business and its market position will bring this into greater focus. Much more attention will be directed at ensuring that intellectual property rights in the form of patents, trademarks and copyright, are fully protected with increased needs to train, audit and enforce critical rights.

This article is part of our 2021 HR Directors’ Briefing Paper. Continue to the next article: The World of Work in the 2020s.

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