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What are the HR considerations in the coming year? 2018 will see the Government consolidate their Brexit plans and painstakingly negotiate the UK’s exit from the European Union. Alongside this, there are a number of areas that the Government is likely to focus on this year which will have an impact on HR.
The Government is currently focused on highlighting gender inequality and increasing the pressure on businesses to review whether they treat staff equally. Once the deadline has passed for large organisations who are required to report their gender pay gap results, the Government may take further action on this issue. It has been predicted they may introduce a ‘naming and shaming’ initiative for those companies who fail to publish their reports as a way of creating adverse publicity. They are also encouraging smaller businesses to publish their gender pay gaps as a voluntary measure so HR should keep an eye on whether this becomes a legal requirement in the coming year.
Providing mental health support and helping disabled people back into work continues to be a priority for the Government. The government strategy ‘Improving Lives: the Future of Work, Health and Disability’ was released last year and is aimed at helping a million more disabled people into employment. The strategy contains various steps the Government will take, such as expanding the current fit note scheme, encouraging organisations to sign up to the Disability Confident inclusivity scheme and responding to the ‘Thriving at Work’ report on mental health. Once in place, this strategy will improve diversity and inclusivity of employers, who will be encouraged to approach these changes with a proactive and positive view.
The Government’s response to questions on employment status and the Matthew Taylor review on ‘Modern working practices’ may affect HR in the coming year. The review contained wide-ranging recommendations that touch on a number of important issues currently in the public eye, such as long-term use of zero hours workers and equality of treatment for agency workers. In addition, the review recommended legislating to make employment status clearer and changing the worker status to “dependent contractors”. If the Government adopts all, or any, of these recommendations HR will need to review how their business currently classes their members of staff and may need to carry out a review of the rights they offer atypical workers.
How the Government plans to reintroduce tribunal fees will have a significant impact on HR. Since fees were ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court in the Unison case, there is no longer a financial barrier to those employees or ex-employees who wish to bring a claim against their employer. Removal of fees has had a significant impact on the number of tribunal claims. Claims increased by 64% in July-September 2017, compared to July-September 2016.
Before the Cabinet reshuffle, then Justice Secretary David Lidington confirmed the Government was examining the Unison decision closely and would announce a new tribunal fee scheme in “due course”. Although any fee will have an impact on claim numbers, it is likely fees will be set at a much lower level than before to avoid restricting access to justice. HR needs to understand and apply fair, reasonable and lawful practices and procedures to reduce the risk of their company being taken to tribunal.
*Kate Palmer is Head of Advisory at HR consultancy Peninsula.