What does Brexit and Lockdown mean for employers in 2021?

At a time of great uncertainty there is much to preoccupy the minds of employers and employment lawyers as we enter into 2021.

Vaccinations are on the horizon for many and there is a public discussion about the legitimacy of employers requiring having the vaccination a condition of employment for employees.  There is a view that this could give rise to direct and indirect discrimination which is covered by the Equality Act 2010 as there are certain conditions which may not allow for an individual to have a vaccination. For example a pregnant woman is not advised to take the vaccine and therefore she could be excluded from employment on the grounds that she was pregnant which would be direct discrimination.  So we need to watch this space as vaccines are rolled out to ensure that we treat all employees fairly, taking into consideration particular circumstances and the context of the employment environment.

Brexit has arrived and with it what some are calling teething problems while others are seeing the routes to their markets disrupted with catastrophic impact on their ability to trade.  If this does not become resolved this will have an impact throughout the supply chain, with an inevitable detrimental impact on employment.  Brexit will also impact on the free movement of people which will curtail employment opportunities and recruitment of EU nationals in the UK.  There will now be a points based immigration systems presenting a further barrier to employment rights and employers ability to recruit from across the EU.

Furlough is due to continue until the end of March and we will wait and see if this is to continue or for some other form of support to be put in place by the Government.  Currently the uptake of furlough seems less intense than back in the Spring of 2020, either as employers have changed working practices, taken measures to reduce number of employees or are being more flexible in their approach.  We are seeing employees with caring responsibilities, in particular home schooling, asking for furlough to support with the demands of working at home whilst having parenting or other caring responsibilities.  If furlough is not an option then we would encourage employers to look at other flexible working options to support employees in these circumstances.

Case Law will continue to be determined in the High Courts and will impact on the precedent for employment decisions, which always keeps our employment lawyers engaged and debating the relative merits of different cases.  Employers need to keep an eye on landmark cases and we expect that there will be tribunal and other decisions which will reflect back on “furlough decisions” and other employment scenarios that arose over the past 12 months.

We do expect that over the coming  year that there will be a move back to the work place and the possible tensions with blending this with home working. For example deciding who goes into the office, who stays at home and the relative safety of all the various options, including travelling to and from work.

There is one thing for sure – there will be plenty to talk about, debate, share and learn in 2021.

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