It is time to refresh HR policies and practices for 2021

2020 was a tumultuous year with employers having to respond rapidly to the challenges of the pandemic. Culturally the world has shifted too, with regard to improving equality and diversity at work. The end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020 means an end to free movement and has implications for UK employment law.

Lisa Branker, Solicitor in the employment team with Richard Reed Solicitors suggests that ‘Now is a good time to review and refresh HR policies and practices after a fast-paced 2020 and to get ready for the challenges of the new year.’

She recommends focusing on the following areas:

Working from home

Is your working from home policy fit for purpose? Does it adequately deal with homeworking as the norm for staff, rather than the occasional day at home to let a plumber in? Does it address the detail of the arrangements, such as who provides equipment; who is responsible for damage to equipment; insurance; and any contribution to homeworking costs (not forgetting any tax breaks that may be available)?

The health and safety of employees working from home remains the employer’s responsibility. If the homeworking arrangement looks like it will be permanent, have you taken steps to ensure your employees have a suitable set up at home? It may be necessary to carry out display screen equipment assessments. The Health and Safety Executive has a checklist for employees to use.

Do not forget that the employer is still responsible for the safety of any equipment they provide. Does your policy give you the right to come to the employee’s house to check it or to require the employee to bring the equipment to work?

Employers also have responsibilities for their employees’ mental health. Are your managers aware of this? Do they need training on practical steps to take to support employees?

Equalities and diversity

Is there more your business could do to remove barriers for workers from ethnic minorities? Monitoring the ethnicity of applicants can help you understand who your business attracts and who is successful.

Consider finding out if there is any pay gap amongst your workforce.

We can advise you on a whole host of steps you can take to level the playing field. Positive action can be a useful tool but is only permitted in particular circumstances, so seek advice about how to deploy this.

It is worth checking your equalities policy to ensure it includes action you are taking and that it is robust.

Data protection

Increases in homeworking and employees using their own laptops have implications for employees handling confidential information and data protection. The Information Commissioner’s Office’s tips for employees on working securely from home are a useful starting point when looking at these implications. Do your data protection and homeworking policies need updating to address these?

If you have introduced remote employee monitoring systems, you need to make sure that your privacy notices and data protection policy covers this.

In October 2020, the Information Commissioner’s Office published new detailed guidance on subject access requests. We recommend reviewing your policy and practice in light of this guidance.

Policies may also need to be updated in regard to sensitive information on ethnicity or health.

Right to work in the UK

Freedom of movement ended on 31 December 2020, other than for Irish nationals. Make sure you remind any employees who are EU nationals that they have until 30 June 2021 to apply to remain in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme.

New immigration rules for non-EU nationals came into force on 1 December 2020. These rules apply to EU nationals from 1 January 2021. If your business already has a sponsor licence, this will still be valid. If your business relies on recruiting from the EU, you may need to apply for a licence to sponsor skilled workers to apply under the new points-based system. Remember to factor in the costs of the immigration skills charge.

In terms of checking someone’s right to work, employers can still rely on a passport or ID card until 30 June 2021 for EEA nationals. After 30 June 2021, employers will need to also check the individual’s immigration status.

Please contact Lisa in the employment team to find out how we can help you with updating policies and practices to ensure that you stay on the right side of the law in 2021 on 0191 567 0465 or email [email protected]  

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