Five employment law predictions for 2018

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​In an era of constant change it's almost impossible to predict how the next year will unfold. But here are some insights into what 2018 could have in store for the employment landscape

Because HR is a profession driven by a desire to constantly learn and develop, people are continually trying to forecast what’s on the horizon for employment. Pinpointing five 2018 predictions that you won’t read elsewhere therefore isn’t easy. However, having monitored a number of industry trends that have emerged in 2017 and considered where ‘gaps’ still exist, here are my five key projections for the next 12 months.

1. Greater support for employees to return to work

In August 2017, the government announced a new scheme to support public sector employees returning to work after a break away from their job. However, I believe the need for organisations to help individuals with their return is going to become an increasingly prominent issue for all workplaces.

It must be more widely acknowledged and accepted that career breaks happen for many reasons – not just relating to childcare. There may be the need to care for a sick or elderly relative, for instance, or a period of long-term ill-health or disability may require extensive treatment, recuperation or general time away from work.

This doesn’t mean that these individuals don’t want to resume their career when the time is right. I therefore predict that more rules and guidance will be put in place so that organisations can better help people make this transition back into work, from dealing with confidence issues to addressing skillset gaps or lapses in professional qualifications.

2. A disability step-change

The recent release of the Thriving at Work report represented a significant 2017 milestone in terms of the conversation surrounding invisible disabilities that have an unequivocal impact on individuals’ wellness and their ability to perform in the workplace.

Up to 300,000 people are said to be forced to quit their jobs each year due to long-term mental health problems, which costs the UK economy an estimated £99 billion per annum. But what about the ‘cost’ to these human beings too?

Linked to my first prediction, I believe an employment law step-change is needed in 2018, to support people with mental illness or other disabilities so that, if there is a likelihood they can return to work within a given period, a ‘guarantee’ is put in place to enable that return. A little like the statutory break permitted for maternity leave, such a structure would help to remove some of the guilt and stigma of weakness, which sadly continue to exist around taking a necessary break from work for recovery. Quitting should not be seen as the only option.

3. Simplification of SPL

Shared parental leave (SPL) is far from new, but has it been the success that the government had hoped? Perhaps not. On paper it is a brilliant family friendly concept. But in reality, the eligibility requirements, notification process and application paperwork is so complex – not to mention employee-led – that uptake has been disappointingly low.

There is little point in an initiative existing for the sake of it, which is why I foresee a simplification of the criteria and notification procedure, so that SPL effectively becomes more ‘user friendly’. I don’t think uptake will increase until this happens.

Grandparental leave also commonly crops up in the headlines but is yet to be implemented. The proposal would extend SPL to working grandparents and I believe this step would help SPL work in the way the government envisaged.

4. Greater ‘gap’ reporting

Organisations with 250 employees or more are now – hopefully – fully aware that they must publish their first gender pay gap report in April 2018. While the obligation may have been met with some administrative sighs when first announced, overall it should not be disputed that the move represents an important step in overcoming an ongoing discriminatory workplace issue.

But given the wider ‘gaps’ that still unfortunately exist in the workplace, I don’t think it will be long before businesses are required to publish further statistics on other protected characteristics such as race and disability. Only then will wider disparity of treatment become clear and true progress towards equality achievable.

5. Employment tribunals will protect gig economy workers

For one reason or another, the gig economy hits the HR headlines on almost a daily basis, highlighting an ongoing incongruence between modern business models and employment practices.

Matthew Taylor’s independent review of employment practices revealed some important recommendations in this respect when it was published in July 2017. However, the advice is merely guidance, not legislative rule. I don’t believe change will come until the matter is regulated, but with pressing Brexit matters to deal with, it seems unlikely that this will be a government priority any time soon.

I therefore predict that employment tribunals will focus as much as possible on protecting workers exposed to the gig economy, until the law better safeguards their interests and stops potential abuse of the process. It is perhaps also inevitable that the matter will evolve through case law, with the outcome of Uber’s appeal no doubt set to be one of the key turning points.

Sarah Dillon is director at ESP Law, provider of HR magazine's HR Legal Service

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