Minimum wage increases announced despite worry of rising unemployment
Government pledges tailored support for those out of work for more than a year, but it is expected that unemployment could peak at 2.6 million in 2021. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has pledged billions of pounds in funding to help the long-term unemployed into work as part of plans to support the economy during the coming year.
Sunak has announced he will create a £3bn ‘Restart’ programme to provide those who have been out of work for more than 12 months with tailored job-seeking support. It is expected that unemployment will continue to rise well into 2021.
The Government will also accept the advice of the Low Pay Commission by increasing the national living wage by 2.2% to £8.91 per hour, as well as extending eligibility to those over the age of 23. The national minimum wage will also receive an increase. A full-time worker on the national living wage will see their annual earnings increase by £345 next year.
The long-term effects of Covid
The immediate effects of Covid-19 on employers and employees cannot be underestimated, with the worry of the pandemic, major job losses and a shift away from traditional working patterns to remote working all playing on the minds of employees.
But much is still unknown about the long-term impact for people who have had coronavirus. A significant number of people are simply not getting better, with 60,000 people in the UK thought to be experiencing so-called ‘long Covid’ – where they have symptoms and other side effects long after first contracting the virus.
Long Covid is posing a major long-term challenge for employers and employees alike, and has prompted the NHS to spend £10m on creating a network of long Covid clinics. Long Covid affects people in many ways and symptoms can vary from breathlessness and heart problems to joint and muscle pain, neurological problems such as lack of concentration, fever, exhaustion and mental health issues. Some people are unable to work with their symptoms and have mobility issues and while some people are able to go back to work some are losing their jobs as they have used up statutory sick leave.
The complexity of long Covid is a challenge for employers. The important thing is not to have a one size fits all approach to employees who are confirmed to have long Covid. Hold individual meetings with each employee to identify how it affects them and deciding on the support that is needed to ensure the employee can continue working.
Long Covid is unlikely to be classed as a disability under the Equality Act because of the Equality Act’s definition that a disability has to have a ‘long term’ negative effect on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. ‘Long term’ usually means 12 months or longer. But a failure to consider how the business will deal with employees experiencing long covid may damage wider workforce relations and affect productivity.
Calls to pass on Christmas party benefit to staff
The annual work Christmas party is likely to look very different this year and many businesses have been sharing their plans for online end of year celebrations. In a recent survey it was found that 89% of UK businesses are planning remote festivities with their teams.
Currently, businesses can have a tax-deductible Christmas bash worth £150 a head if the event is open to all staff and is designed for team-building purposes. In addition, employers are also allowed to give a tax-deductible gift of up to £50, which can include things such as a bottle of wine or Christmas meal. It is thought that MPs are lobbying the Chancellor to allow organisations to transfer the money to employees as a Christmas gift and thank you. The effect of this would be give employees something back, whilst not costing the employer anything in an already tough year.
That said, it is still vitally important that businesses don’t just “cancel” Christmas and find a way of celebrating and saying thank you – even if it does have to be virtual.
Changes to Immigration system
Ever since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, details of the new immigration system that will apply to EU nationals have been eagerly awaited. Businesses wishing to hire EU nationals from January 2021 onwards will require to apply for a sponsor licence but for those businesses who already sponsor employees from abroad, there are additional and key differences from the current sponsorship system.
The skill level required to be sponsored for a work visa, which will be called a Skilled Worker visa, will be reduced from the current degree level, to A Level. This means that lower paid or less senior roles will become eligible for sponsorship.
The salary required for a work visa will be reduced from £30,000 to £25,600 and lower salaries may qualify accepted if the candidate has a relevant PhD or if the role is one that is on the list of shortage occupation roles. This is currently being reviewed and is expected to be updated and released early in 2020.
The good news for employers is that there is no longer a Resident Labour Market Test. This previously required businesses to re-advertise roles to demonstrate that they were difficult to fill. Now a business can hire anyone to fill a sponsored role rather than having to demonstrate there were no other suitable candidates.
Although the changes in skill level, salary level and the rules regarding switching visas are being relaxed, the new system still holds many changes for businesses that rely on EU nationals. Sponsorship comes at a cost – the licence application fee can cost up to £1,476 then there is a fee for Certificate of Sponsorship at £199 and the Immigration Skills Charge can cost up to £1,000 per year. These are costs which will undoubtedly affect businesses who have relied upon EU labour up until now.
Huge costs award made against employee following Tribunal judgment
An employment tribunal has made a record award AGAINST an employee for bringing a case that was found to be “duplicitous”. The case was originally heard in 2017 when the claimant asked for compensation for eight claims of unfair dismissal, age discrimination, race discrimination, sex discrimination, harassment, victimisation, unlawful deduction from wages and whistleblowing.
The claimant claimed that a redundancy process which resulted in him losing his job was unfair and that he had been discriminated against.
However, the tribunal find that the dismissal was fair and dismissed each of the other claims. The Judge said that the claimant had attempted to deceive all parties involved and awarded the employer, Copthorne Hotels a whopping £432,000 in legal costs – believed to be the highest award every made against an employee.
Costs are infrequently made in tribunal and when they are the average is £2,400. The reason for the costs being so high in this case is that the tribunal believed that the claimant had falsified his claims and it was found that he had made covert recordings of meetings which amounted to a breach in trust and confidence.
Parents in need of more support from employers
A majority (73%) of parents have said that their childcare needs are different now due to coronavirus, and additional employer support is required.
A new survey by childcare support app Bubble found nearly three-quarters of parents either need more childcare, or more flexibility with existing support as a long-term result of the pandemic.
Twenty five per cent of parents surveyed said their need for support with childcare had increased thisyear compared to only 10% that said it had reduced.
A further 94% of working parents said they believe it’s important for their employer to support them when it comes to childcare, arguing it would increase their loyalty to the business (85%) and boost their productivity too (76%).
However, despite this, 73% of parents said their workplace offered them no access or financial support when it comes to childcare.
The way working patterns shifted in the spring as a result of COVID-19 illustrated that many more jobs than employers previously thought can be done on a flexible basis.
Employers urged to focus on record keeping in wake of BBC equal pay row
As the UK equalities watchdog calls on the broadcaster to rebuild trust with female staff, experts recommend other firms ensure their processes are watertight
Employers have been told to be diligent when it comes to keeping records of pay awards in the wake of a report from the UK’s equality watchdog criticising the BBC for the way it handled complaints of pay discrimination from female staff.
A report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigating historical issues of unequal pay at the broadcaster found there was no evidence of unlawful pay discrimination against women.
However, it criticised the procedures the BBC had in place and said a lack of transparency opened it up to the risk of discrimination cases in the future. The report said the BBC failed to keep proper records of pay decisions, leading to confusion and poor communication with women making complaints.
It also said there was evidence that the complaints system took too long to resolve cases, and that some women did not feel it was sufficiently independent and that it heightened their anxiety and stress.
The importance of keeping records should not be overlooked, as without such records there is a risk of potential pay discrimination if an organisation is unable to justify and evidence how decisions on pay are made.
Caroline Waters, interim chair of the EHRC, said it was “easy to see why trust between some women at the BBC and the organisation has broken down”. Many women at the broadcaster had felt their voices were not being heard and were being left confused about how decisions over pay had been made, she said.
The report included a number of recommendations for the broadcaster, including regular reviews of pay frameworks, better record keeping of pay decisions and more transparency over how decisions about pay are reached.
A number of other factors contributed to the environment of mistrust, namely a lack of transparency around decision-making and communications; a long, slow complaints process lacking in independence; and concerns from women that the BBC’s complaint resolution had not considered the issue of equal pay correctly.
The BBC has recently lost a number of high-profile pay discrimination cases, including that of Samira Ahmed, who won a tribunal claim against the broadcaster at the start of the year arguing she had been paid a sixth of what her male colleague, Jeremy Vine, was earning for presenting a similar show. Ahmed and the BBC eventually agreed a settlement out of court.
Advertising roles with flexible working boosts applications from women
Research finds using gender-neutral language and offering different work patterns could open up more diverse talent pools
Women are more likely to apply for senior level roles if the job advert offers flexible hours and uses gender-neutral language, a government-backed study has found.
The study for insurance company Zurich, conducted by Behavioural Insights Team, suggests that more women could apply for top jobs if employers advertised roles with flexible-working terms and gender-neutral language.
Zurich, which employs about 4,500 people across the UK, began advertising all its vacancies with part-time, full-time, job-share or flexible-working options last year. Coupled with the use of gender-neutral language in every job advert, Zurich said it had seen a “significant change” in the type of candidate applying for jobs.
The insurance firm saw a 16 per cent increase in the absolute number of female applicants as a direct result of the initiative. This translated to a 6 percentage point increase in the proportion of applicants who were female, which rose from 36 per cent for all applicants between January 2017 and March 2019 to 42 per cent in the time between March 2019 and the end of February 2020.
Additionally, there was a 19 per cent jump in the absolute number of women applying for senior roles – a 6 percentage points increase in the proportion of applicants, rising from 31 per cent to 37 per cent over the same period.
Employees shouldn’t feel forced to compromise on career advancement for flexibility. People need flexibility for a range of reasons such as balancing work with childcare or eldercare responsibilities, or to pursue other interests.”
Employers that recognise the need for flexibility need to provide options such as compressed hours or job shares. All levels of employees are likely to benefit from greater inclusion and diversity, increased motivation and greater agility to respond to customer and client needs.
Employees becoming ‘emotionally remote’ during coronavirus
More than half (52%) of UK employees have said that the boundaries between their work and home life are becoming increasingly blurred due to working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to insurance provider Aviva’s new Embracing the Age of Ambiguity report, employees said they are becoming emotionally remote whilst working from home.
Just 15% agreed that their employer is trying hard to understand what motivates them, and a quarter (26%) said their employer is genuinely concerned about their wellbeing.
Employees’ needs and expectations have evolved while remote working. The survey suggests that employees are increasingly ‘plodding’ through work.
Employees are seeking work-life balance, control over career progression and help with wellbeing and retirement planning. Understanding employee motivations is a key opportunity for employers to strengthen engagement and combat the sense of ‘employee drift’ in the workplace.
The majority (73%) of employees surveyed said where they work hasn’t changed since the start of the March lockdown. This has reportedly had an impact on employee mental health.
Two in five (43%) employees described their wellbeing as being less than good, and more than a third (34%) said they did carry on working even when they felt unwell.
Heightened anxiety has also led to employees working longer hours and taking fewer sick days over a three-month period (67% in February vs. 84% in August).
While the report suggested responsibility is on employers to ensure they provide the right environment for employee work-life balance and wellbeing to thrive, it stated it is “a two-way street” and employees need to play their part too.
Fifty-four per cent of UK employees said that their employer has worked hard to create a sense of ‘company togetherness’. They are predominantly doing this by embracing an open dialogue and communicating future working arrangements, according to 60% of employees.
Are reward strategies fit for remote workforces?
Companies acknowledge that they need to adapt their pay and progression strategies in light of the increase in home working caused by the pandemic, a poll of employers has found.
The survey, conducted by Willis Towers Watson, found more than half of employers did not believe their current rewards strategy was fit for a more remote workforce. And despite many organisations expecting high levels of remote working to continue in the future, fewer than half (45 per cent) thought their current job architecture was suitable for a flexible workforce.
A similar proportion (43 per cent) said their job-levelling processes were suitable for developing flexible and agile workforces, while just over a quarter (28 per cent) said they still didn’t have policies in place to manage flexible working.
Employers are recognising many of the working practices forced by the pandemic were here to stay, the way work is structured and pay is managed is still based on roles being fulfilled onsite within geographically organised teams.
The good news is that the trend in many organisations was moving in the direction of a more flexible approach anyway and the pandemic has just turbo-charged the speed of change. But employers now need to take a step back and examine the future state of their organisation overall and decide how they can make the most of their new agile workforce.
However, the survey findings dispelled fears that an increase in remote working could lead to lower wages, at least in the short term. Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) of employers polled said they intended to continue fully paying remote workers the same rates as in-office staff next year – although 57 per cent said, going forward, new work requirements would require a hybrid approach to pay and reward.
While most employers are providing flexible work arrangements for safety reasons today, they also recognise that offering remote or flexi-time arrangements can play a significant role in retaining talent, supporting diversity and keeping workers engaged and productive as we move beyond this pandemic.