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30 November 2020

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

Following a surge in calls to domestic abuse helplines during lockdown, the CIPD and the EHRC have published new guidance for employers setting out how to recognise and support staff experiencing domestic abuse. Whilst acknowledging that it is not for employers to solve the problem, the guidance calls on employers to take a more active role by having a well-publicised policy in place, and by making staff aware of the help that is available including legal advice, housing support and counselling. Employers are asked to take an empathetic, non-judgmental approach and to be flexible, for example, in working hours or tasks. The guidance also addresses the need for open workplace cultures so as to break the silence around domestic abuse, and for roles and responsibilities to be clear. The government is currently undertaking a review of how domestic abuse survivors can be helped in the workplace, with a report on its conclusions due by the end of this year. 

The Court of Appeal has unanimously dismissed an appeal against the High Court’s refusal to grant a judicial review in the ‘Backto60’ campaign, which claimed that the increase in state pension age for women from 60 to 66 amounted to unlawful age and sex discrimination. The government argued that the age increase was justified in order to save costs, ensure intergenerational fairness, and address inequalities between male and female state pension ages, and that its publicity campaign had been adequate and reasonable. Agreeing that there was no justification to interfere with decisions which had been taken in parliament, the Court of Appeal also held that there was no sufficient causal link between withdrawing the state pension from women aged 60 to 66 and the disadvantage caused to this group. The Backto60 campaign is considering a further appeal to the Supreme Court. 

HMRC has published updates to its Employment Status Manual dealing with the extended off-payroll working rules which will apply to medium and large entities in the private sector from 6 April 2021. This includes guidance on how to determine whether a company is medium or large by reference to turnover, balance sheet and average number of employees, as well as examples showing how the tests apply to partnerships and joint ventures. There is also further detail on international issues; issuing and challenging status determination statements; how HMRC will use its powers to recover unpaid tax down the labour chain and in cases of insolvency; and how the recovery and appeals process will operate. 

The government has introduced new regulations to reduce bureaucracy and increase capacity in employment tribunals. From 8 October 2020, non-employment judges may sit as employment judges subject to certain criteria, and some functions currently carried out by employment judges may be delegated to legal officers. The regulations also make changes to the employment tribunal rules of procedure which will make it easier to conduct remote hearings, give tribunals greater powers to accept claims containing administrative errors, and give parties wider scope to deal with multiple claims or responses on one form. Further changes to the Acas early conciliation procedure will come into force on 1 December 2020 when a six-week conciliation period will apply in all claims instead of the current one month, and the parties will no longer be able to agree a 14 day extension. 

The government has published a response to its consultation on transparency in supply chains. This sets out various proposals aimed at improving the reporting requirements for annual slavery and human trafficking statements under section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. 

Key proposals include:

  • setting out mandatory reporting areas in new legislation; 
  • legislating for inclusion of the date when the statement was approved and signed; 
  • introducing a new statutory fixed reporting deadline of 30 September each year; and
  •  requiring organisations to publish statements on a government-run website as well as their own website. 

Another important proposal is extending the requirement to produce a statement to include public bodies that meet a specific budget threshold, rather than continuing with the current voluntary approach to transparency in government supply chains. The government is also considering enforcement options alongside the development of a new enforcement body. There is no timetable for implementing these proposals, but the response states that for all measures which require new legislation, this will be introduced when parliamentary time allows. 

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