Key employment law updates | August 2021

Women and Equalities Committee launch inquiry on menopause in the workplace

The Women and Equalities Committee has launched an inquiry into issues with existing legislation and workplace practices regarding women going through menopause in the workplace.

The committee comprises of members from different political parties and looks at the development of the Women’s Health Strategy. They will present findings and make recommendations which will shape policy to address gender equality. There is a possibility that the menopause will be added as a protected characteristic under law in order to make it clearer and help prevent discrimination in the workplace.

National Disability Strategy

The UK has launched a National Disability Strategy which sets out the steps the government intends to take to remove barriers faced by disabled people in their lives. In relation to work-related matters, it addresses improvements to the Access to Work scheme and is piloting a work-related "adjustment passport" with the aim of assisting disabled people to move between jobs. This "passport" will assist in reducing the need for repeated assessments (where needs are unchanged) meaning employees moving between jobs/employers will have a smoother transition.

The strategy has also devised a new disability advice hub which was launched as a joint partnership between the BEIS and ACAS, which aims to provide clear advice to both disabled people and employers on employment rights. 

There is also a consultation scheduled to take place before the end of 2021 to discuss potentially mandating disability workforce reporting, as the current voluntary scheme is not producing enough data and evidence.

Duty to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace

The government has now confirmed that it will introduce a new duty on employers to pro-actively prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. This follows the consultation mentioned in our July bulletin.

Currently, there is little detail as to what the new duty will entail, and the government has stated the new obligation will be introduced once parliamentary time allows so the draft legislation is yet to be released. The key points that were raised during the consultation were as follows:

  • duty to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace
  • third party harassment protection – this was repealed in 2013 but suggestions are that it will be reintroduced; and
  • extension of Equality Act (EA) time limits – there is a possibility time limits will be extended from three to six months to assist with victims dealing with trauma in the early months following an event(s) but also more generally in relation to other EA claims.

In terms of when the proposals will come into force, there is no fixed timespan as yet, but it is possible draft legislation will be formed relatively soon. Until further details are provided, it is recommended that employers consider their current practices and policies and whether they are complying appropriately with duties already listed in law. Requirements on employers to take reasonable steps to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace are already in place, so now is a good time to review policies and procedures to ensure they are working and are being followed correctly.

Hybrid working and tax implications

In light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many businesses are starting to lean towards a more hybrid working arrangement as staff are allowed to attend the workplace for part of their working time and work from home (or remotely more generally) for the remainder.

However, it is important to note the tax implications of such arrangements as provision of homeworking equipment (screens, chairs, desks etc.) alongside reimbursement of homeworking expenses (heating, electricity and associated costs) means that tax-efficient benefits need to be considered.

When equipment is provided to an employee, generally speaking, it is likely considered free of income tax and NICs so long as its main purpose is use for business purposes. This is following the legislation introduced in June 2020 (enduring until 5 April 2022). But note this exemption only applies where the equipment is available for all employees more generally. The equipment provided by an employer is still owned by the employer (despite being located in the employee's residence) and the tax liability will arise where ownership passes if, for example, the employee retains the equipment post-termination of employment as then there is a potential tax charge.

In terms of payment of household costs (relevant to employment) the employer can choose to reimburse actual amounts incurred or use a flat rate. Currently, if an employer does not reimburse costs, then the employee can claim a deduction of the flat rate amount. It remains to be seen if this continues to be claimable once people choose to work from home, as opposed to being required to.

Temporary right to work checks completed with copies of documents via video conference to continue until 5 April 2022

The temporary COVID-19 adjustments which allowed RTW checks to be carried out remotely with copies of documents and were due to end on 31 August 2021 (inclusive) have now been extended to 5 April 2022 (inclusive).

There is an intention to introduce a new digital solution to assist and enable checks to continue to be conducted remotely but with more robust security. Enabling the deferred timescale allows employers to continue to operate remotely if they wish, whilst a long-term solution can be developed.

Please see here for the HMRC's employer's guide for right to work checks.

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