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29 June 2020

249: And finally a look forward to what’s happening in employment news for July 2020

The Home Office has published guidance for businesses on addressing and reporting on modern slavery risks during the coronavirus pandemic. This stresses that businesses must continue to identify and address modern slavery risks in their operations and supply chains. As well as focusing on the health and safety of workers, this also means considering how fluctuations in demand and changes in operating models may lead to new or increased risks of labour exploitation. New risk assessments may need to be undertaken, and previously identified risks may need to be re-prioritised. Boards of directors should be kept updated on emerging or heightened risks. The guidance states that businesses will not be penalised if they delay publishing their modern slavery statement by up to six months due to coronavirus-related pressures, but the reason for any delay must be stated. Businesses will still need to report on the actions that they have taken during this period, how they monitored risks and how they adapted their activities and priorities in response.

Following an inquiry launched in February 2020, the Finance Bill Sub-Committee of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has published a report criticising the government’s proposals to extend off-payroll working to the private sector from April 2021, a year later than planned due to the pandemic. The Sub-Committee found that the reforms were based on the ‘flawed’ IR35 system and that no proper evaluation of the public sector roll-out of off-payroll working rules had been carried out before the extension of the rules was proposed. It also expressed concern that the reforms would turn contractors into ‘zero rights employees’ with the same tax burden as employees but none of the protection. The Sub-Committee asked the government to further delay the reforms and to use the delay to consider fairer alternatives. Although the government has confirmed that the reforms will still be implemented in April 2021, it will in the meantime commission more research into the long-term effects of the reforms in the public sector. This means that further developments are likely.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published details of its regulatory approach during the pandemic. Whilst stressing that current data protection rules remain unchanged, the ICO promises an empathetic and flexible approach to enforcement, prioritising areas likely to cause the greatest public harm and providing maximum support and guidance for organisations. For example, recognising that many employers are facing shortfalls in operating resources and staffing levels, the ICO will take a proportionate approach if the crisis impacts on their ability to report personal data protection breaches within 72 hours or to respond to subject access requests. Organisations may also be given longer than usual to remedy breaches that preceded the pandemic if the crisis affects their ability to take corrective action. Appropriate measures must still be taken to record decision-making so that relevant information is available for freedom of information requests once the pandemic is over. The ICO has temporarily discontinued its audit work and has suspended all formal regulatory action in relation to outstanding information request backlogs.

The government has published guidance for employers on the new right to statutory bereavement leave and pay which came into force on 6 April 2020. This confirms who is eligible for leave and pay, the eligibility requirements, notice that must be given by an employee to start and cancel leave and pay, how employers should deal with requests from employees who are not eligible, and the records to be kept by employers. The guidance also confirms that bereavement pay can be reclaimed from the government, and applications may be made by employers for a government advance if they cannot afford to make payments in the first place.

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