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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Employment Law / 288: And finally a look forward to what’s happening in employment news for February 2021

A report published by whistleblowing charity Protect, based on analysis of 600 calls to its advice line between March and September 2020, has found that 41% of callers were ignored and 20% were dismissed after raising concerns related to COVID-19 (‘The best warning system: Whistleblowing during COVID-19’). The charity has highlighted that many of the concerns raised were of an extremely serious nature. Most related to furlough fraud and risks to public safety, including a lack of PPE and provision for social distancing in the workplace. The report also found that managers were more likely to be dismissed for raising COVID-19 concerns, with 32% of managers losing their jobs compared to 21% of non-managers, and that furlough fraud came mostly from small organisations with between 1 and 49 employees. Various recommendations are made in the report, including the introduction of new legal standards on employers and regulators to improve the effectiveness of whistleblowing arrangements, a structured penalty regime with fines and other sanctions, and legal aid for whistleblowers.

The Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have commissioned a new independent Taskforce to improve socio-economic diversity at senior levels in financial and professional services across the UK. This announcement was made alongside publication of a report published by the City of London Corporation (CLC) on socio-economic background and career progression in financial services which highlighted that nine out of ten senior roles are held by people from higher socio-economic backgrounds. The report also notes that employees from less privileged backgrounds take 25% longer to progress, despite no evidence of poorer performance. The new Taskforce will be run by the CLC and will focus on three main areas: conducting an industry consultation on how government and regulators can incentivise firms to improve socio-economic diversity; creating a membership body for financial services in order to facilitate benchmarking and sharing of best practice; and building the business case for increasing diversity through a productivity analysis. The CLC will report back on the findings of the Taskforce by November 2022.

On 6 November 2020, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a parliamentary select committee, announced an inquiry into freedom of expression. This will consider the scope, clarity and limitations of this freedom, which is guaranteed by common law and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The inquiry will include consideration of the obligations an employee has to their employer when expressing views on social media and the extent to which an employer can and should respond to what their employees say on these platforms. It will also examine whether everyone has equal protection of their right to freedom of expression; whether greater clarity is needed to ensure the law is understood and fair; and whether hate speech law needs to be clarified or updated to take account of shifting social attitudes. The deadline for submissions was 3 January 2021.

The government has announced the National Living Wage (NLW) and National Minimum Wage (NMW) rates which will apply from 6 April 2021, having accepted in full the recommendations made by the Low Pay Commission. The NLW will increase by 2.2% from £8.72 to £8.91 and will be extended to 23 and 24 year olds for the first time. The 21 – 22 year old NMW rate will increase to £8.36 (from £8.20); the 18 – 20 year old rate to £6.56 (from £6.45); and the 16 – 17 year old rate to £4.62 (from £4.55). The apprentice rate will increase by 3.6% to £4.30 (from £4.15). Given the current uncertainties over the long-term economic outlook, the Low Pay Commission has not recommended any change to the government’s target of the NLW reaching two-thirds of median earnings by 2024. The new Real Living Wage rates have also been announced as £9.50 in the UK (a 20p increase) and £10.85 in London (a 10p increase). This is the rate recommended by the Living Wage Foundation as the minimum needed to meet the real cost of living and is currently paid voluntarily by over 7,000 employers, with over 800 additional employers having signed up since the start of lockdown in March.

The Work and Pensions Committee has launched an inquiry and call for evidence to investigate the gap between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people and how the government can better support disabled workers in the labour market. Official figures published in March 2020 reported a disability employment rate gap of 28%. The inquiry will focus on trends in the disability employment gap, the economic impact of low employment rates for disabled people, the assistance available to help disabled people in work, and the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

On 13 November 2020, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport published new guidance for organisations in England on how to safely involve volunteers in their work during the pandemic. Key points in the guidance include encouraging those who can volunteer from home to do so; warning that no one should be compelled to volunteer outside their home; and ensuring that appropriate support is provided to enable social distancing guidelines to be followed. The guidance also confirms that whilst volunteering people can meet in groups of any size from different households, indoors or outdoors, subject to following social distancing guidelines. Employees who are furloughed can volunteer for another employer or organisation, but not for their own employer or any organisation that is linked to or associated with it. Separate guidance has been issued on volunteering in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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