2021 – what lies ahead for #ukemplaw and #HR?

Setting aside the current lockdown for a moment (I wish!), what does 2021 hold in store for employers and HR? In chronological order…

  • A new immigration system. As of 1 January 2021 the #Brexit transition period has ended and there is a new immigration system in place. EU nationals who previously enjoyed freedom of work and movement are now subject to immigration controls, and employers need to plan for this when recruiting. You may need a sponsorship license for the first time this year to recruit key staff.  Make sure that you are also aware of changes to right to work checks for new employees and that you plan business visits with EU countries to ensure that appropriate visas are in place. Remember also to encourage your existing EU/EEA workers to apply for settled or pre-settled status prior to the 30 June 2021 deadline. For other relevant #Brexit changes affecting employment law and HR please see our previous Q&A here.
  • Home schooling and the juggle…Clearly this is front and centre of the agenda for many at present and will remain so throughout this year. Even if children return to school there will be periods when they are home again to isolate. On the whole, employers have been very understanding of challenging home circumstances which can change without any notice. Employers should stay aware, show support and avoid risking claims of constructive dismissal or discrimination when approaching employees who are juggling far more than they want to. Government guidance says that you can furlough staff who cannot work due to childcare issued caused by Covid, though you do not have to – see the considerations above. #mentalhealth should also be a massive focus for employers during this time, and always. We should all by now know the potential impact of mental health issues and be offering support, especially in this challenging era
  • 1 April 2021 – the annual National Minimum Wage rise. The current hourly minimum rate for those aged 25 and over is £8.72. This will rise to £8.91 from 1 April 2021. The big change this year is that the age at which employees are entitled to the highest hourly rate is also changing – it will move from 25 year olds to 23 year olds as of 1 April 2021. This will catch people out, don’t be one of them! Note though that the age limit change might be postponed, as many changes have been due to Covid. Remember – there are different rates for younger age groups and apprentices.
  • 6 April 2021 – remember the IR35 changes to off-payroll working proposed for April 2020? They were a hot topic pre-Covid 19 and were put back to 6 April 2021. The reason for the changes are to reduce tax avoidance by individuals supplying their labour via personal services companies rather than being put through PAYE.   The changes mean that the client using the services of the contractor will have to determine whether the contractor would, in the absence of any intermediaries, actually be their employee/worker for tax purposes (the CEST checker – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/check-employment-status-for-tax will help) and, if they are, the organisation engaging them must operate PAYE. These changes came into play for the public sector a couple of years ago, so the private sector is now to follow. Now is the time to review your contractor arrangements and make changes if you need to. Please get in touch if you would like a copy of our detailed note on this topic.
  • 30 April 2021 – the end of #furlough? Perhaps. The current Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme end date is 30 April 2021. Whether a further extension will be needed remains to be seen but, if the current end date remains, employers should plan ahead to reflect any changes in the workforce that may be needed when the scheme ends. This will mean redundancies for some. If planning at least 20 redundancies in a 90 day period then collective consultation obligations will apply, which means a minimum consultation period of 30 or 45 days depending on how many people are affected. Redundancy consultation can be carried out whilst employees are furloughed, so plan ahead to use the Government support to pay wages during that period if it helps. The furlough scheme can no longer be used to fund notice pay though, so factor the costs of notice and redundancy payments into your planning. Also remember to consider alternatives to redundancy – 2020 has shown some amazing examples of workforces pulling together to come up with creative solutions like job sharing and reducing hours/benefits to save jobs. Give your workforce the chance to come up with those ideas collaboratively so that as many of them are still with you when things pick up again.
  • Technology, flexibility and the people agenda – 2020 has changed forever how many of us work. What started as temporary changes are likely now embedded as new workplace trends and, for many, will be essential in choosing a future employer. Lead the way with greater focus on the tech, flexibility and the support needed to be an employer of choice.
  • Keep an eye out – if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that big changes can happen and with little warning. We try to highlight major changes asap on LinkedIn, so keep an eye out for our posts and articles which we hope help.

2021 is clearly having a bumpy start, but let’s hope the spring and summer bring brighter times. If we can do anything to support you or your team please do get in touch. As a specialist employment law firm @DraperLangLLP can provide detailed advice on any of the changes outlined above and far more.