In the first of Matheson's 2023 Knowledge Insights Series, our Employment, Pensions and Benefits Group hosted a webinar on the key employment themes set to take centre-stage for the year ahead. In particular, we looked at:
- The key features of the EU (Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions) Regulations 2022, including a close examination of what this legislation means for probationary periods in practice;
- The status of the Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022 to examine what the proposed right to request remote working entitlement will look like in practice and a consideration of the other statutory leave entitlements and employee rights this legislation seeks to introduce;
- The legislative developments at Irish and EU level which promote the commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Here, we considered the actions employers must take now to ensure they are well placed to narrow any existing Gender Pay Gap by June 2023 and we also considered the far-reaching implications for employers in Ireland under the proposed EU Pay Transparency Directive; and
- Lastly, we examined the new obligations on employers in managing whistleblowing complaints under the Protected Disclosure (Amendment) Act 2022 as well as the potential penalties for failure to comply.
During the webinar, we surveyed the key employment law issues for our 260 plus participants. While the results reflect our experience on the ground of the most pressing HR issues, it is worth taking a moment to consider the key results in detail.
37% of participants identified managing a hybrid workforce as the key issue for 2023. This, somewhat, echoes the results from a similar survey we ran during our Horizon Scanning webinar in January of 2022 which confirmed that facilitating a return to the workplace post-pandemic and managing a hybrid workforce were some of the key concerns for employers at that time. We have explored the key challenges for employers managing hybrid workforces in an early publication which is available here: How to do Hybrid Right – Key Learnings For Employers So Far.
Unsurprisingly, another key concern for employers is the retention and attraction of key talent. 35% of participants identified this as their biggest challenge for 2023. Interestingly, this was an even more acute concern for participants attending our 2022 Horizon Scanning webinar last January where 42% of those participants considered the retention and recruitment of employees to be the greatest challenge of 2022. At that time, terms including the "great resignation" and the "great re-evaluation" were present in everyday language as we saw employees reconsider their working lives post-pandemic. However, the extent of redundancies that occurred over 2022 and that continue to be effected in the tech sector has, somewhat, rebalanced the labour market scale in that industry. This is, of course, not the reality in many sectors where employers continue to relentlessly compete for talent.
What is clear from our discussion with clients and what can be seen from the market more broadly is that increased remuneration is no longer the key to talent attraction and retention and employees look for flexibility, temporary or permanent relocation opportunities, greater family related leave benefits, non-financial benefits including wellness allowances or volunteer days, etc. Employees are also looking at their employers' Gender Pay Gap ("GPG") data, Environmental, Social and Governance ("ESG") measures and practices, commitment to diversity and inclusion, etc. when considering their ongoing or future employment opportunities.
Despite the Protected Disclosures (Amendment) Act 2022 (the "2022 Act") commencing on 1 January 2023, it was surprising to see that only 11% of participants identified implementing whistleblowing policies and procedures as a key priority of 2023 given the extensive change introduced by the legislation. Perhaps this result indicates an understanding that such is required and, in practice, relatively few whistleblowing complaints arise in comparison to other issues.
In an interesting insight, 10% of participants identified ESG matters as a 2023 issue. Employment law generally comes within the scope of the social component of ESG. Existing and proposed legislation at Irish and EU level aims to improve employee rights and employee security and employers will not only seek to comply with their minimum employer obligations but strive to illustrate their progressive position in respect of ESG matters. We will shortly be publishing an article in respect of the employment law considerations in this regard.
Lastly, the survey revealed that only 7% of participants identified the need to improve their Gender Pay Gap as a priority for 2023. This low figure may be because some of the participants were not in-scope (they do not have 250 employees or more) or it may be because many employers do not see that as a pressing issue at this time of the year.
Employers that fall into the latter category are urged to undertake some early planning to ensure they are taking action now to narrow any 2022 gap identified. In-scope employers' GPG data which is required to be published in December 2023 is based on a June 2023 snapshot. This means that in-scope organisations now have, effectively, less than five months to take action to narrow any gap identified. The reality of this timeframe is likely to cause some surprise because it means that employers who have gone through the arduous process of running the numbers for 2022 and drafting the accompanying statement will now need to action and implement the measures identified in that accompanying statement to ensure that their 2023 numbers show progress. This is no mean feat but when employers publish their 2023 GPG data in December of 2023, they will be held to and assessed against the measures they committed to implementing in their 2022 GPG statement. The media coverage of the GPG data will likely be much more scrupulous in 2023 as employers have a bench-mark against which their progress will be assessed. In short, in-scope employers cannot now rest on their laurels and there is no room for taking a breather after the December 2022 reporting!For more information please contact our Employment, Pensions and Benefits team or your usual contact at Matheson.