2021 Employment Law – A Year in Reflection

05 / 01 / 2022

Like 2020, 2021 remained one that (for the right or wrong reasons) will long stick in the memory. The start and end of 2021 saw rising COVID infections and work from home directives but in between that, there was time for new employment law developments which we recap below.

April – IR35 / Off payroll working

Changes to the IR35 / off payroll working rules finally came into force on 6 April 2021. These impacted medium and large size private sector businesses.

In effect, the changes generally shifted the responsibility for assessing whether IR35 applied to a particular contractor engagement to the end-user, i.e, the client. The end-user is now required to produce its assessment in a Status Determination Statement and provide this to the contractor, to the personal services company or other intermediary involved, before any financial payment is made. If any PAYE deductions are required to be made, they must now be withheld and paid over by the end-user. These rule changes have led many businesses to reassess how they use and engage contractors.

June – Overseas recruitment – the impact of Brexit

Free movement within the European Union (EU) ended on 31 December 2020. New restrictive arrangements came into force for EU citizens save for Irish citizens who retained the right to freely enter, live and work in the UK.

The EU Settlement Scheme came into place and the deadline to apply was 30 June 2021 for most applicants. Non-EU citizens can continue to rely on qualifying physical documents to prove their immigration and right to work status.

Right to work checks are compulsory for employers – and employers should be aware of their duties and obligations with regards to checks and the maintenance of records.

Many employers are now looking at obtaining sponsor licences to enable them to continue to recruit from abroad to help cope with the ongoing UK labour shortage.

September – The end of furlough

The CJRS ended on 30 September 2021, with the ‘deadline’ for submitting September furlough claims being 14 October 2021.

Employees that were previously furloughed should have returned to their pre-furlough terms (e.g. pay and hours), unless other arrangements have been made. Employers might like to consider amending terms of employment and / or flexible working arrangements, to suit any new working practices and to guard against future workplace disruptions.

With the latest COVID measures in place, it is not unreasonable to think that a successor scheme could well be introduced at some point in 2022.

October – Gender pay gap reporting

Gender pay gap reporting was made a requirement for some employers in 2017. The pandemic impacted gender pay gap reporting deadlines for the reporting year 2019-2020 (making any such reporting voluntary rather than mandatory). However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission announced that the enforcement date for the reporting year 2020-2021 would be 5 October 2021 – and as such, any reporting should have been submitted by that date.

November – No jab no job; care homes

From 11 November 2021 all staff in registered care homes were required to be fully vaccinated (unless they were exempt).

The ‘no jab no job’ debate continues – with some speculation that staff working for the NHS may be required to be fully vaccinated.

Employers may choose to have a policy on vaccinations and / or other pandemic related ‘measures’ – although any such policy should be carefully considered before being implemented (so as to avoid any, perhaps inadvertent, negative or unlawful consequences – for example from a discrimination perspective where any such policy may affect some workers in a different way to others).

December – Consultation on flexible working

Formal government consultation on whether to “make flexible working the default” closed on 1 December 2021. This consultation is considering employees’ rights in making any such request(s), including whether more than one request per year per employee should be permitted and whether the three-month period for an employer to respond to a flexible working application should be reduced.

The government’s recently reinstated “work from home where possible” measures are highlighting the requirement for employers to be flexible in the workplace and with their staff. 

Please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Employment team at Wedlake Bell with any queries or concerns owing to any of the issues raised above.