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Comparative Table of employment law developments in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

03 March 2022

Do you need to stay up to date with employment law developments across Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? If so, our Comparative Table, prepared in conjunction with Legal Island, will be a handy reference guide.

The employment law landscape has changed considerably over the last four years and is continuing to change rapidly. Many developments over the last two years have stemmed from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has shone a light on employee wellbeing, flexibility, sustainability and shifting values. As we hopefully move from ‘pandemic’ to ‘endemic’, employers’ duties in the context of health and safety will be important this year as we learn to live with Covid-19 in our personal and working lives.

The Comparative Table, which we have prepared in conjunction with Legal Island, is intended to be a handy reference guide to the main employment law developments that have taken place in Great Britain (GB), Northern Ireland (NI) and the Republic of Ireland (ROI) over the last four years. For ease of comparison, it is split by subject area, with an index at the front. It also includes links to relevant legislation and other documents to help you understand the differences.

There has been less legislative change in NI than in GB and ROI for a number of reasons, including the lack of law-making institutions for three years and political parties failing to reach consensus on changes. This is likely to remain the case until after the NI Assembly elections in May 2022.

The Comparative Table

Taking a bird’s eye view over the changes and forthcoming developments, some key themes and trends emerging for employers are set out below.

New ways of working – and working less?

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated changes in working practices including an increase in alternative working models and policies that focus on employee wellbeing and flexibility.

  • Flexible and remote working: In GB, the delayed Employment Bill could be published in 2022 and is expected to include a new right to request flexible working from day one. While the proposed legal reforms are modest, they form the backdrop to discussions about “new normal” working arrangements as employers look to codify practices in the coming year. In ROI, following the Work-life Balance Directive, employers are encouraged to introduce a flexible working policy if they haven’t already done so. Employers in ROI should also prepare for remote working requests following draft remote working legislation, which is expected to become law before the summer.
  • Working less? Our colleague and Employment Partner, James Davies, predicts working less as being one of eight future of work predictions (in his Eight Drivers of Change report). He says “as a result of evolving values, growing awareness of the health implications of a long-hours culture and increased flexibility…average working hours will continue to decline. Many more people will look to work only part of the week and during hours that fit with their family or other commitments”. Certainly, steps towards a potential four-day working week are gaining momentum across the jurisdictions with employers trialling the effectiveness of a four-day week for their organisations. This follows the Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect that was introduced in ROI in April 2021, confirming employees’ rights not to habitually work outside their normal working hours, and to “switch off” from work.

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues

ESG issues are emerging as a key focus for organisations across multiple sectors. Employers looking to stay on top of the ESG agenda in 2022 should factor in several potential employment law changes including:

  • Whistleblowing: ROI has recently introduced legislation to transpose the EU Whistleblowing Directive into Irish domestic law. ROI already has existing whistle-blower protection but the new law will expand the protection of the protected disclosures regime. The EU Whistleblowing Directive does not apply to the UK but looks set to influence best practice. Its key feature is the requirement to provide feedback to whistleblowers within certain specified timescales.
  • Modern Slavery Act: We’re expecting reforms in the UK strengthening the Modern Slavery Act. The reforms will implement the plans announced in September 2020. When these are introduced, which could be this year, companies in scope of the current reporting requirements may need to pay even closer attention to their anti-slavery statements as a result. This comes at a time of growing interest in supply chain governance as part of the ESG agenda.

Ways in which we support employers with their ESG agendas are outlined here.

Diversity and inclusion

Diversity, equity and inclusion remain high on the agenda, whether as part of the “S” in ESG initiatives or separately. Diversity monitoring and positive action are key topics for many employers right now and significant developments in 2022 are likely.

  • Pay transparency: In GB, detailed rules governing gender pay gap reporting are set to be reviewed in 2022. In NI the existing legislative provisions relating to gender pay gap reporting have not yet been brought into force and it’s unlikely that there will be any progress before the NI Assembly election. While gender pay gap legislation was passed in ROI in July 2021, specific regulations implementing the law (e.g., directing employers on when they need to report, how they need to report etc) are awaited. In ROI, employers who are not immediately required to report should avail of the time that they have to prepare as much as possible, by liaising with necessary stakeholders (payroll, HR, IT) to ensure that when the time comes, they are ready to gather the necessary data to compile their reports.
  • Harassment: In GB, the government has promised to introduce a new proactive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace and to bring back laws making employers responsible if employees are harassed by customers or other third parties. Provision could be made in the Employment Bill for these changes. The Equality and Human Rights Commission may start consulting on its new Code of Practice on Harassment, building on the major guidance it published shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic. In GB and ROI steps are being taken to restrict the use of non-disclosure agreements as they relate to incidents of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination. The upshot could be a step change in how employers are required to manage the risks of harassment in a post #Metoo world, but much turns on the detail.

Family rights:

  • Carers and working parents: By August 2022, EU member states need to have implemented the Work-life Balance Directive, which includes new baseline rights for carers and working parents. In ROI, carers already have rights, as outlined in the Comparative Table. The UK doesn’t need to implement the directive but has already promised to match the new rights for carers. Under the GB government’s proposals, working carers will be able to take up to 5 days’ carers leave each year to help them carry out their caring responsibilities, although this will be unpaid. The government published some detail on how this new right will operate in September 2021 and we expect the Employment Bill to pave the way for its introduction.
  • Parental bereavement: In NI, legislation has recently been passed giving employees two weeks’ leave and pay following the loss of a child under the age of 18 (the entitlement being effective from April 2022). This brings NI in line with the existing rights in GB. Following further consultation and agreement on subsequent regulations, the NI provisions are to be extended to include working parents who suffer the loss of a child through miscarriage. In ROI paid leave (maternity and paternity) upon stillbirth or miscarriage is only available after the 24th week of pregnancy. However, the Organisation of Working Time (Reproductive Health Related Leave) Bill makes provision for paid leave even if miscarriage or stillbirth occurred before the 24th week. It also provides for paid leave for the purposes of availing of reproductive healthcare such as IVF. The Bill is currently in the Seanad Third Stage and it is hoped to be enacted this year.

2022 is certainly set to be an interesting year of developments!

The Comparative Table does not contain a full analysis of the legislative and case law differences between the jurisdictions. We intend to update it at intervals and the authors would appreciate any suggestions for omissions or additions in future.

The Comparative Table is also for guidance only. We recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within the table.

 

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