A Word from the Editor - December 2019

Alex Lock, DAC Beachcroft LLP
Sunday, December 1, 2019

We are in the unusual position of having a third general election in four years and of holding it in December. Many will be distracted by the weather, supermarket Christmas TV adverts, or thoughts of which one of an array of hideous Christmas jumpers should be worn for the office party. For us, as employment lawyers, the challenge is even greater as we wonder whether we can really recycle – again – that article on the dangers of Christmas parties, whether the employer should provide or fund alcohol and what the limits of vicarious liability are these days.

Trying to keep up with an ever-changing future landscape for employment law is difficult. For most of the recent elections we gave space to each of the main political parties so that they could set out their stall. Perhaps due to the frequency of elections or a greater move towards ‘messaging’ rather than dealing with specifics, many of our readers found this to be a less useful exercise, so we have not done the same this time. Nevertheless, as the three main parties in Great Britain have now published their manifestos it is worth seeing what may be in store for employment law over the coming years.

The Conservative’s manifesto is keen to emphasise a desire to prioritise the principle of fairness in the workplace. This translates to creating a single enforcement body to crack down on any employer abusing employment law, whether by taking workers’ tips or refusing them sick pay. It is not clear whether it is limited to those two areas or whether they are examples. Workers will also be given the right to request a more ‘predictable contract and other reasonable protections’.

Work-life balance is also focused on, with a promised consultation on making flexible working the default position unless employers have good reasons not to. There are statements concerning extended leave for neonatal care and making it easier to take paternity leave.

The Labour manifesto sets out a very different vision for employment rights, beginning with a Ministry for Employment Rights, then moving to sectoral collective bargaining across the economy, with a Workers’ Protection Agency created to enforce workplace rights. Employment tribunals will have their powers extended – although it is not clear how – and they will become Labour Courts with strengthened – again, it is not clear how – panels.

A whole range of extended rights will be introduced, including ones relating to flexible working, maternity pay, paternity leave and the introduction of four new Bank Holidays. In addition, there will be a single status of ‘worker’ for everyone except the genuinely self-employed and workers’ rights will be from day one with no qualifying periods.

The Lib Dems sit somewhere in the middle in their manifesto. They too will establish a Worker Protection Enforcement Authority ‘to protect those in precarious work’. There is also a focus on ‘gig’ economy workers, with the proposed establishment of a ‘dependent contractor’ employment status with rights in relation to minimum wage, holiday and sick pay. Tax, National Insurance and pension entitlement will be reviewed to ensure such workers do not lose out.

As with the two other parties, there are promises in relation to extending flexible working, making it more of a default position and from day one.

What is interesting is the strong similarity in areas that the three parties are focusing on – gig economy workers, flexible working and enforcement of rights – and the strong differences between them in how far they would go in granting or extending rights and the balance between workers and employers.

We take a break until our February issue and I take the opportunity to wish you all a merry Christmas and best wishes for 2020.

Alex Lock, DAC Beachcroft LLP

The legal content in this article is believed to be correct and true on this date.