Matheson recently hosted a webinar on the key employment themes that we expect to dominate in the coming year. During the webinar, we conducted a survey amongst the 200 plus participants on a short series of questions relating to topical issues such as the gradual return to work for employees, family leave entitlements, the right to disconnect and whistleblowing. The main findings of the survey are outlined below.
The results of the survey demonstrate the uncertainties surrounding a return to the workplace with one of the main concerns being how employers will appropriately manage that return. 52% of participants expressed concern with how a refusal by an employee to attend the office will be dealt with. This is a concern which is now even more prevalent following the Government’s announcement for a phased return of employees to the workplace without any clear guidance on how this can be achieved. We understand however that a revised return to work protocol being published by the Government is imminent which will hopefully give employers some additional comfort and guidance in managing the initial return to the workplace.
While 33% of participants confirmed their concerns with managing a remote hybrid workforce, this is a challenge that employers will likely have no choice but to seek to overcome. It is expected that a degree of flexibility around remote working will remain for employees with the Government recently confirming that draft legislation relating to the right to request remote working will be introduced in the coming months. While this will not guarantee a right to remote working for employees, employers will be expected to act reasonably with the employer also being required to provide reasonable business grounds to justify any refusal. On a more immediate level, all evidence indicates that due to the marked increase in employee mobility and the challenges employers are facing to recruit quality talent, employers will be reluctant to take hard positions with staff at this time.
On this issue, 42% of participants confirmed that retention and recruitment of employees will be their biggest challenge for 2022. Flexible working, geographical relocation, supply and demand challenges accompanied with a so called “great resignation” are factors resulting in a staff retention concern for 2022 as employees reassess their careers post-pandemic. Employee benefits and in particular family leave entitlements will therefore become even more important for employers as part of their overall offering to employees. Having observed a significant increase in the uptake of paternity leave amongst fathers in 2021 (when compared to previous years), it is interesting to note that 74% of participants confirmed that their organisations offer paid paternity leave. This is a very significant increase compared even to 2020. Many employers are looking at extending family leave entitlements at this point with a view to attracting talent and retaining existing employees.
On 1 April 2021, there was much excitement and discussion following the publication of the Code of Practice on the Right to Disconnect (“Code”). The Code afforded an employee with the right to be able to disengage from work and refrain from engaging in work-related electronic communications, such as emails, telephone calls or other messages, outside normal working hours. Interestingly however, 73% of the participants confirmed that they had not observed any changes in their employees’ approach to out of hours emails. Despite the hype surrounding the right to disconnect, it appears therefore that the Code has in practice had a surprisingly low impact. One factor in this is that many of the larger international employers had already adopted many of the measures proposed within the Code. This only covers a certain percentage of organisations, so overall the results are not what would have been expected last April. It is in line, however, with anecdotal evidence obtained on this from employers over recent months.