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COVID-19: A global view of the key challenges and opportunities for employers over the next 12-18 months as we adapt to the changing environment

11 August 2020
As employers across the world being to adapt to the 'new normal' in their working environment, we take a look at some of the key challenges alongside some of the potential opportunities arising out of the global pandemic.

For many employers, the global pandemic has created huge uncertainty about what the future holds for their business. In this update, our global employment law experts provide an overview of the some of the predicted challenges over the next 12-18 months; discuss what the post-COVID working environment may look like and explain how employers are using the opportunity to change and future proof their working practices. 

Our employment experts in 10 different locations answer the following three key questions: 

  1. What are the main employment law challenges in the next 12 to 18 months? 
  2. Many businesses have had to adapt rapidly to working from home during the pandemic. Do you think flexible/home working will increase in the future? 
  3. What opportunities do you see for the future arising out of the pandemic? 

Select a region below to see what the future may hold for employment law in your global locations.

Insights by region

Australia

 
Australia

What are the main employment law challenges in the next 12 to 18 months?

It is expected once the JobKeeper Commonwealth Government's wage subsidy stops in March 2021, firms that are still struggling financially may implement restructures and redundancies. Given that the jobs market is unlikely to have recovered by then, such processes should be undertaken with extra care to reduce the risk of legal challenges and in particular unfair dismissal claims. Being confident that the redundancies satisfy the "Genuine Redundancy" exemption from unfair dismissal laws is vital. It may be that as employers start hiring again, short term contracts become more popular, although when implementing such contracts regard should be had to the decision in Saied Khayam v Navitas English (C2017/2976).

Having had to adapt to working from home during the pandemic, do you think agile working will become the new normal?

It seems clear that agile working will be much more common in the short to medium term. To the extent that employees value the flexibility of such arrangements, this will become another indicia of an employer of choice. However, agile working has also highlighted the benefits of working in the office and in particular the extra opportunities for social interaction and collaboration which office based work offers. These benefits are not lost on workers and employers and may temper the pendulum swinging too far towards agile working.

What opportunities do you see for the future arising out of the pandemic?

Employers now appreciate the importance of being flexible and agile in how they deliver their services and products. The innovation required to respond to the pandemic represents an opportunity for employers to re-think their business models, both in terms of their relationships not just with employees but also clients and suppliers. The increasing importance of using IT to improve business performance was on the radar of most employers before the pandemic. In some cases, the ability of employers to survive the pandemic was very much dependent on having IT systems in place to deliver their products and services. The changes made by those employers in the last few months are here to stay.

France

 
France

What are the main employment law challenges in the next 12 to 18 months? 

The first step for employers will be to audit the situation and learn the lessons of the Spring pandemic.

They will need to review the work from home regulations, policies and conditions, update of health and safety regulations, etc. The internal policies will most probably need be reviewed and updated in view of a potential new wave of the pandemic.

Secondly, employers will assess the situation of their business during the Summer 2020 and may anticipate future reorganisations of personnel. The French government has announced that the Fall 2020 will most probably see the implementation of a lot of social plans. 

Some businesses, still extremely impacted by the pandemic, such as the tourist industry, may consider benefiting from the new short-term unemployment scheme. Businesses will assess how this scheme can fit their activity.

Thirdly, employers may consider other lessons from the pandemic, such as the increase of permanent work from home and decrease of the work surface, which will allow a decrease in the relating costs.

Many businesses have had to adapt rapidly to working from home during the pandemic. Do you think flexible/home working will increase in the future?

Yes, undoubtedly. 

Working from home was not very popular in France but experience has shown that the employee's performance whilst working from home was not inferior to the employee's performance whilst working in the office. The employer's reluctance to increase working from home has now been overcome; employers are now considering drastically increasing the number of employees who are home based, totally or partially.

But surprisingly, at the end of the lockdown, employees were actually requesting to return to the company's premises and see their colleagues.

Employers now need to find the right balance between decreasing costs and employees' wishes to meet with their colleagues and be in the office, at least partially. 

What opportunities do you see for the future arising out of the pandemic? 

The pandemic has forced companies to move forward, to push their boundaries and to consider working patterns that they had not considered before. The pandemic has also modified some businesses, who had to diversify or increase productivity for instance. A lot of changes have been implemented in a very short period and, most of the time, the results are better than expected.

The pandemic has shown that employees are more flexible than anticipated, that companies can be innovative and that working together is a major part of the interest of work.

Germany

 
Germany

What are the main employment law challenges in the next 12 to 18 months? 

Without warning and above all without preparation time, health and safety at work, loss of orders, supplier problems and shutdowns have become daily challenges for many organisations. Most employers and employees have probably already mastered the most urgent challenges quite well by now.

Therefore, future challenges can be faced more optimistically now that experience is available but companies also need to continue to make use of this experience. Companies should continue to be prepared for the fact that some or all employees may have to go to the home office again or that other problems that have already occurred may reoccur.

Two issues have tended to receive too little attention in the rush of pandemic development but should definitely be brought into focus in the long term: 

  1. Occupational safety in the home office. The employer is also responsible for compliance with occupational health and safety regulations for the home office. Employers must instruct their employees accordingly, if they have not already done so already and, if necessary, provide them with appropriate ergonomic equipment (e.g. monitors; chairs etc.). 
  2. As ensuring communication within teams is vital for agile working, care should be taken to ensure that data protection compliant programs are used.

Since human health is always the highest priority, internal hygiene and distance concepts should be regularly adapted to the practice. Employees should also be regularly reminded of adherence.The occupational health and safety guidelines drafted by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BAMS) provide good reference points.

The vacation season also brings its own challenges for employers and employees. In order to protect all employees, the employer has a legitimate interest to know when an employee is on holiday in a risk area, so the employee must provide honest information when asked. If an employee becomes infected with Covid 19 during a trip to a risk area, there is no obligation to continue to pay remuneration (sec. 3 para 1 Continued Remuneration Act (EFZG)) as an exception due to "fault against oneself".

Unfortunately, many companies have to restructure their organisation as a result of the pandemic, whereby redundancies often cannot be avoided. However, despite the Covid 19 situation, these should be well thought through, just as they were outside the pandemic. In order not to risk ineffective terminations, a restructuring should be carefully planned and documented in accordance with the relevant jurisdiction of the German Federal Labour Court.

Many businesses have had to adapt rapidly to working from home during the pandemic. Do you think flexible/home working will increase in the future?

Even sceptical employers have learned in recent months that most employees can also work productively in the home office, some even more than in the office. Many employees appreciate the home office because it saves them travel time and allows them to concentrate on their work without distraction.

Accordingly, it can be assumed that home office work will continue to increase. However, there are also people who do not like working from home or projects where a team has to come together in one place.

It is therefore unlikely that work from home will become the norm - but it will establish itself as an equivalent option to working in the office.

Nevertheless, there is one important principle: communication is key. And this requires virtual meetings on a regular basis and real meetings on an occasional basis.

What opportunities do you see for the future arising out of the pandemic? 

As agile working becomes more and more established, companies have a greater choice of potential employees (and vice versa). Since it is difficult to find qualified applicants in many areas, focusing on one place is an additional limitation. In future, employers will have the opportunity to recruit from a global pool of talent.

Digitalization, which was progressing rather slowly in many companies, was significantly accelerated. This should remain a priority, as it is essential in the future.

Many have learned that much work can be done virtually and does not require face-to-face meetings. Flights and journeys that are not done because of this, save time, money and protect the environment.

Ireland

 
Ireland

What are the main employment law challenges in the next 12 to 18 months? 

Unfortunately, managing redundancy situations will be a key challenge for employers as businesses across the board will have to adapt to change as the economy goes into recession and Government supports expire. Employees who are made redundant will find it more difficult to secure new employment given the weak economy. Employees who successfully challenge their redundancy as an unfair dismissal will receive higher compensation awards as a result. Employers will have to extra take care that their redundancy process including fair selection is robust and properly carried out.

There will also be an increase in other claims especially protected disclosures/ whistleblowing claims where an employee could be awarded compensation up to five years pay if dismissed for making a protected disclosure. A protected disclosure includes wrongdoings in relation to health and safety and would include mismanagement of the COVID-19 Protocols in the workplace.

Employers will also likely face an increased risk of High Court Injunction proceedings if they attempt to exit expensive senior executives without following due process.

Many professional services organisations that have introduced pay cuts and/or cancelled bonuses may see key employees leaving and working in competition, bringing the enforceability of non-compete clauses into sharp focus.

Clearly, managing COVID-19 will be a practical challenge for employers. As lockdown measures have eased, employers in Ireland have grappled with the logistics of returning their staff to the workplace.  Protecting the health and safety of the workforce presents a significant challenge as risk assessments are carried out to ensure the workplace is COVID- secure.  

Business continuity is a top priority for employers as local lockdowns and the potential for a second wave present further challenges for employers as additional restrictions are implemented.  

There may also be an increase in COVID related claims, including claims for breach of contract, unfair dismissal, unlawful deductions from wages and an avalanche of requests from employees to continue working from home especially employees with young children.  Employers may also see an increase in discrimination claims.  Clinically vulnerable individuals are at greater risk of the virus, including pregnant women, older workers and workers with certain disabilities.  Employers may be challenged over what steps have been taken to protect these groups during the pandemic.    

Mental health is also likely to be a priority for employers in Ireland and support should be offered to the workforce to help protect their mental well-being.    

Many businesses have had to adapt rapidly to working from home during the pandemic. Do you think flexible/home working will increase in the future?

Certainly, there will be an increase in flexible and home working with many employees interested in a hybrid solution where they may work from home for part of the week but also be able to work in the office to better connect with colleagues and do tasks which are more suitable to an office environment.

The pandemic has forced employers and employees to embrace flexible/home working.  The current situation has provided an unprecedented trial period for a new way of working.  Technology has undoubtedly played its part in facilitating successful arrangements, with virtual meetings becoming the new norm.  Employers may well be questioning the necessity to keep large-scale city centre premises when the agile arrangements have worked well.  

Employers will need to strike a balance.  The benefits of agile working need to be weighed against the benefits of an office based environment.  Many employees have struggled with isolation and virtual conferencing fatigue when working at home and crave the social interaction which accompanies an office environment.  As identified above, mental health is a major concern for employers and can be difficult to monitor when the workforce is home based.  Employers should ensure risk assessments are conducted to check on employees' health and safety when working from home.  

What opportunities do you see for the future arising out of the pandemic? 

Many employers in Ireland are taking the opportunity to diversify their business and re-skill and re-train their workforce.  Adapting to the new challenges in an innovative and dynamic way can present employers with new business opportunities. 

There will be cost savings for employers if their requirement for expensive office space is reduced due to increased home working.

Employee loyalty, moral and productivity will improve in many organisations where employees are given more flexibility to work from home.  A foundation of trust has been built in many work environments, together with a sense of collaboration where employers and employees have worked together to keep the business viable and to keep everyone safe.  This loyalty should help employers move forward in a flexible and dynamic way.  

Italy

 
Italy

What are the main employment law challenges in the next 12 to 18 months? 

Since its beginning, the COVID-19 emergency overwhelmed Italian business and employment relationships, requiring employers and employees to change (and revolutionise) how to work or, in the worst-case scenario, suspend business on a temporary basis.

During lockdown, the Italian Government issued key pieces of legislation supporting employers who needed to (partially or totally) suspend their activities and, at the same time, stating mandatory measures to be implemented for protecting the health and safety of their workforce and any other persons entering premises so to grant a workplace COVID-secure. 

Pieces of legislation on employment matters have been (and are) updated regularly, in line with the trend (and seriousness) of the COVID-19 pandemic and gradual restarting of businesses. The Italian Government declared a general "emergency status" for Italy in March 2020, ending on 31 July 2020 and then postponed to 15 October 2020. The Parliament is working on new pieces of legislation extending certain extraordinary measures implemented over last months, for supporting employers and employees in the event of a second wave of the virus and additional lockdown flare-ups. 

The next 12 to 18 months will present challenges also from an employment perspective. In particular, we expect an increase in litigation arising from dismissals and, at the same time, significant changes relating to certain terms and conditions of employment.

Indeed, employers are now prohibited from dismissing employees for redundancies (this ban would terminate on 17 August 2020, but according to rumours this deadline will be likely postponed). 

A high number of employers will find it necessary to restructure and reorganise their business, reducing their workforce where not proportioned to their workflow and turnover. Once employers are able to implement individual or collective dismissals, they will have to manage them carefully and in line with legal principles (first of all the identification of redundant employees) and mandatory requirements, for the purpose of limiting claims from dismissed employees.

Employers will be required to review certain terms and conditions of employment granted to their workforce. It is likely that variable salary schemes will be updated in such a way to improve workforce performance, or will be suspended or revoked. Similar actions would be implemented with reference to benefits granted on an individual or collective basis to the workforce. Before implementing such changes, the employer shall perform a complete due diligence, to evaluate if and to what extent benefits granted can be changed (and how), suspended or revoked at all. 

For the time being, measures issued by the authorities over last months (and envisaged to be in force in the coming future, duly updated) have been criticized: can the need and right to safeguard heath limit the entrepreneurial freedom and all connected rights for such a long period of time?

Many businesses have had to adapt rapidly to working from home during the pandemic. Do you think flexible/home working will increase in the future?

This is a very challenging question. One year ago, flexible/home working was absolutely a luxury granted to certain employees by employers with a strong and prevailing international background. It was an exception to the general rule whereby an employee was supposed to work only to the extent they were performing their duties at the employer's premises.

The COVID-19 pandemic has required many employers to re-evaluate and re-define the concept of the workplace, to now include home or any other place (different from the employer's premises) suitable for the performance of working activities. 

Even if this "smart working" has been a positive experience for some, it does not suit every business and every employee. Based on reports, smart working is not the best approach for public companies and authorities nor for employers operating in the industrial sectors.

At the same time, smart working has worked well for international companies, considering that working from home helps with work-life balance: many employers are now proposing a mix between traditional working and smart working, requiring employees to work from offices only some days per week.

However, a high percentage of employers (especially those operating in the industrial sectors, small companies or companies with a family-management) have reasons to believe that smart working is not a suitable or permanent model of working.

Generally speaking, although smart working has been a positive experience for some (thanks to technological developments in particular), working physically together, taking time for coffee break and brain storming and being directly supervised by management are all part of Italian working culture and it will be hard to give this up. 

What opportunities do you see for the future arising out of the pandemic? 

The pandemic has presented significant challenges for employers, in particular. 

In the future, we expect to see a number of changes in several aspects of the management of employment relationships. From one side, employers will likely restructure and reorganise their business, improving the technological support granted to the workforce (so to minimise any negative impact of future lockdown), grant "smart working" to employees and evaluate new services and business opportunities in line with customer needs that have arisen during lockdown and post-crisis recovery period. At the same time, employers will also review the structure and function of their workforce, identifying key employees and rationalising employment-related costs. 

Negotiation with unions in the context of bargaining agreements renewal will become more challenging than in the past, considering that employers will potentially implement a "minimum costs – maximum results" policy, and individual negotiation will be addressed and managed in such a way to identify, engage and retain the best talent.

Poland

 
Poland

What are the main employment law challenges in the next 12 to 18 months? 

The main challenge for all employers is the unpredictability of the COVID-19 situation, bringing issues related to difficult economic situation as well as an anxious atmosphere among employees. This has forced employers to apply different measures related to health & safety in the workplace in order to protect employees from getting infected. The other challenge is facing the technological progress (as of 2019 the electronic personal files of employees were introduced in Poland and litigation is becoming more electronic and digitised) and addressing gender pay gap. Employers will also have to face the needs of young employees starting their career on labour market and having a different approach to work; they value the opportunity to improve their skills, keep work-life balance; find satisfaction in their job and feel that they have impact on organisational growth. In addition to this, LGBT rights are still an active topic in the public sphere in Poland.

Many businesses have had to adapt rapidly to working from home during the pandemic. Do you think flexible/home working will increase in the future?

Agile working will definitely become more common in sectors where the work can be performed remotely. The pandemic situation has shown that agile working is beneficial both for employees and the employer. Employees are able to combine their work with private life, save time and money and employers may reduce costs related to maintenance of office space without negative consequences for the overall efficiency of the business. The anti-crisis shield implemented in Poland due to pandemic gave employers a right to instruct employees to work from home and to provide employees with equipment necessary to perform work. The employee may be obliged to keep records of performed activities. The Polish government is currently working on the bill that will officially introduce working from home to the Polish Labour Code. This will probably be another factor that will encourage employers to grant employees the opportunity of agile working.

What opportunities do you see for the future arising out of the pandemic? 

The pandemic will cause changes in work models and give employers the opportunity to gradually replace time consuming and costly face-to-face meetings with quick video conference calls that can be conducted from any place, without a need to travel. Working from home will encourage employers and employees to develop to greater scale new technologies, including apps for teleconferences and platforms for team work. Challenges related to home working will contribute to a better management and registration of employees' working time.

Spain

 
Spain

What are the main employment law challenges in the next 12 to 18 months? 

  • Temporary collective suspensions of employment contracts or reduction of working hours due to new waves of COVID-19: If there is a new wave between 1 July 2020 and 30 September 2020, companies will be able to apply these measures and they will get a reduction on contributions to Social Security. 
  • Collective dismissals: The Government has established the following restrictions:

a) Dismissals applied until 30 September 2020 based on COVID-19 will be declared “unjustified”, which is a new concept under Italian employment law. Some courts consider that an “unjustified” dismissal is the same as a null or invalid  dismissal. We consider that, when these decisions are appealed, they will conclude that an “unjustified” dismissal is the same as an unfair dismissal. 
b) Companies which have terminated the application of collective suspensions of employment contracts or reduction of the working hours due force majeure (due to COVID-19), will be obliged to maintain the same number of employees for a period of 6 months.

Many businesses have had to adapt rapidly to working from home during the pandemic. Do you think flexible/home working will increase in the future?

The answer to this question is yes. The vast majority of companies in Spain did not have any policy relating to home working or agile working before the pandemic of COVID-19, but now most of them are undertaking legal assessment in this sense. 

In May 2019, the Government implemented the obligation on all companies to register working hours, with the objective of reducing extra time. Since then, some companies are applying different policies relating to agile working and are controlling the number of working hours.

Additionally, the Government is working on a new law relating to home working. According to the draft of the new law, the Government will support employers for generally applying total or partial, permanent or temporary home working. This draft of the new law of home working establishes that workers will be able ask for flexible working hours, but it will only be applicable in cases where it is possible for the company. Therefore, the company can deny the request of flexible working hours if it is essential that the employee is at the disposal for work within certain hours.

What opportunities do you see for the future arising out of the pandemic? 

We consider that start-ups and companies whose activities are developed on the internet or in the medical sector will experience an increase in their activity and in earnings. 

Other companies will be obliged to adapt their business to the new necessities of the market or they will be obliged to apply redundancy or bankruptcy proceedings.

UAE

 
UAE

What are the main employment law challenges in the next 12 to 18 months? 

With various business sectors being impacted by the outbreak of Covid-19 and by the subsequent measures, the main challenge for businesses from an employment perspective will be maintaining the business viability while honouring their obligations towards employees, which may not be a simple task. Any reduction in employees' rights requires their consent; otherwise it will be deemed as a breach of contract, which may trigger compensation claims. 
Alternatively, whenever such consent cannot be obtained, and with the need to reduce the business costs, an employer may not have an option other than making an employee redundant. However, redundancy is not a recognized principle under the UAE Labour Law and it falls within the judge's discretion to decide whether an employer had the right to terminate an employment contract based on financial hardships faced by the business.

Many businesses have had to adapt rapidly to working from home during the pandemic. Do you think flexible/home working will increase in the future?

Working from home has proved to be more efficient and productive when performing certain tasks and when working in certain fields. However, we currently see more and more businesses reverting back to working from their offices. This can be due to the fact that certain roles need to be performed from an office. Also, it shall be noted that remote work raises serious supervision, confidentiality and privacy concerns, which can be a major liability for some sectors. Another practical factor to be considered is that many employees may not have a convenient place for work in their place of residence and are therefore eager to return to the office in order to return to some degree of normality. 

From a regulatory standpoint, and until further notice, the number of visas a business can obtain is linked to their office space, which means businesses will continue to need an office space area relevant to their headcount. We are seeing however a reduction in commercial leasing and companies downsizing because they have seen that agile working can be extremely effective.

We will continue to see an increase in working from home arrangements, and businesses adopting flexible arrangements when it comes to its employees; however, we do not see working from home becoming the new normal.

What opportunities do you see for the future arising out of the pandemic?

As a result of the pandemic, individuals became more familiar with remote and agile work arrangements which presents a considerable benefit for employers. The need for less commercial premises, the reduction in the cost of utilities and the significant saving from culled business development activities and travel, paves the way for employers to invest money into more beneficial aspects of the business which can drive up productivity. In our view, we see there being a significant push towards improved diversity and inclusion within the workplace and investment into corporate wellness programmes and other key initiatives which will help facilitate productivity levels and growth within the business. 

Simultaneously, the use of technology (whilst always prevalent in the legal sector) will see a significant rise through virtual meetings and smart technologies, reducing employers' expenses on travelling and face to face meetings. Also, with the use of smart technologies, multinational companies can reconsider whether there is a real need to move employees across countries as they might be able to perform their roles from their home countries and save on significant costs in the process.

UK

 
UK

What are the main employment law challenges in the next 12 to 18 months? 

Employers have faced unprecedented uncertainty throughout the pandemic and the next 12 to 18 months are likely to present further challenges.  Employers have worked diligently to return their staff to the workplace as lockdown measures have gradually eased.  Protecting the health and safety of the workforce presents a significant challenge as risk assessments are carried out to ensure the workplace is COVID-secure.  Employers are also having to grapple with additional restrictions under local lockdowns which are likely to be a regular feature in the coming months.  With concerns over a second wave of the virus and local lockdown flare- ups, employers are having to prioritise business continuity and contingency plans.  

As well as an enormous backlog of Employment Tribunal claims delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we also anticipate that there will be a sharp increase in COVID-related claims, including claims for breach of contract, unfair dismissal, unlawful deductions from wages and particularly in relation to an employer's interpretation of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (government support allowing employers to furlough employees).  

In addition to the claims listed above we also expect to see a number of discrimination claims under the Equality Act 2010.  The virus presents a greater risk to individuals who are clinically vulnerable, including pregnant women, older workers and workers with certain disabilities.  There is also evidence that the virus has a disparate impact on certain ethnicities.  Employers may face a variety of claims if workers feel that appropriate steps have not been taken to protect them.  

Many organisations across the UK are already having to implement redundancies and, as the pandemic continues and government support reduces, we expect many more employers will need to make difficult decisions.  There are mandatory collective consultation requirements for larger redundancy programmes involving 20 or more dismissals at the same establishment over a 90 day period.  Breach of these requirements can lead to protective awards of up to 90 days' gross actual pay per dismissal, a potentially ruinous sum for many organisations already in financial difficulties.  Added to this, many organisations are contemplating, embarking on or implementing changes to terms and conditions which may result in reductions in pay and benefits.

Mental health is likely to be a primary focus for employers in the next 12 to 18 months.  With the combination of lockdown, working from home, financial worries and health concerns, many individuals are struggling to cope.  Employers should be prioritising the mental well-being of their workforce and offering as much support as possible.  

Many businesses have had to adapt rapidly to working from home during the pandemic. Do you think flexible/home working will increase in the future?

Yes, undoubtedly. Recent reports from the Office for National Statistics show that almost half of the UK's workforce have been working from home since March this year.  Inevitably, the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to employers re-evaluating working practices.  Employers and employees have had to embrace flexible, agile and homeworking on an unprecedented scale.  Technology has played a significant part in facilitating the successful transformation, with virtual client and external meetings quickly becoming the new normal.  Many employers have seized this opportunity to evaluate the best approach going forward.  Some UK employers have already reduced their expensive city-based premises in favour of agile working.  The environmental benefits are also obvious with the reduction in employers' carbon footprints.  

Although agile working is a positive experience for some, it does not suit every business and everyone.  From the perspective of effective supervision of employees' mental health and well-being, working together in a workplace has the advantage.  Employees can feel isolated and overlooked when working from home and struggle to implement boundaries between work life and home life. Many home-based workers are experiencing virtual conferencing fatigue and feel disengaged. Employers need to take a collaborative and measured approach and individual worker's needs will need to be considered. A risk assessment should be carried out.  We anticipate employers will strike a balance between agile and office based working. 

What opportunities do you see for the future arising out of the pandemic? 

The pandemic has presented significant challenges for employers; however there are also huge opportunities for organisations in the post-crisis recovery period to re-engineer their businesses for the 21st century and introduce new models of working to ensure that their businesses are more future-proof and resilient.

In the future, we expect to see a number of changes in where, when and how employees work.  It is predicted that there will be an increase in genuinely flexible or "smart" global working practices where employers have a more adult to adult relationship with their workforce and trust them to decide when and where they work and measures their performance on output or achieving specific goals.

Many employers in the UK are taking the opportunity to diversify their business and re-skill and re-train their workforce.  Adapting to the new challenges in an innovative and dynamic way can present employers with new business opportunities. 

Diversity & Inclusion may well take centre stage when employers begin to think about re-designing their business post-COVID and have the chance to become the organisations they aspire to be, although this will take careful thought and understanding due to the impact that COVID has had on those with protected characteristics. 

There is an opportunity for businesses who have managed to work differently during the pandemic or who will resume in an altered way, to re-engineer their businesses in a more streamlined way. There will be an opportunity to reduce headcount where it is not required, and utilise contingent workers for efficiencies.

The pandemic has presented a real sense of unity in some UK workplaces.  Employers and employees have collaborated to keep everyone safe and as many as possible in employment.  Organisations will increasingly be judged by their own workforce, new recruits and their stakeholders by how they treated their workforce during the pandemic; how their businesses changed during the recovery period; and what visible and tangible steps they took to rebuild foundational trust with their workforce. The winners will retain and attract the best talent and stand the best chance of surviving both the effects of the pandemic and the global recession predicted to follow it. 

USA

 
USA

What are the main employment law challenges in the next 12 to 18 months? 

In the United States, the initial challenge facing employers for the next 12 to 18 months will be ensuring workplace safety for consumers and employees. This requires developing a plan of actions for re-opening and responding to potential infection, as well as anticipating liabilities from disability, workers’ compensation and leave-related claims. Industries across the United States are building advisory groups, often composed of risk managers, workplace safety experts and legal advisors, to create comprehensive strategies tailored to the needs of each business and employee population. For businesses operating across multiple states, these advisory groups are being tasked with not only creating a workable strategy, but also staying up to date with the latest national, state and local laws and ordinances restricting the number of employees in a give location, as well as guidelines issued by federal and state department of labor agencies.  

In addition, many government relief programs for employees and businesses are expiring.  Presently, there is little certainty whether additional relief programs will put in place. As a result, many businesses are determining that it is simply not feasible to continue to operate for another 18 or even 12 months. As the pandemic is far from abated, these business are considering a second round of reductions in force or even shuttering the doors permanently.

Many businesses have had to adapt rapidly to working from home during the pandemic. Do you think flexible/home working will increase in the future?

Yes. In the United States, nearly every industry and business has gone through multiple reassessments of work from home policies. While businesses in March of this year initially moved to remote operations as a matter necessity in response to shelter-in-place orders by varying state governors, businesses are now looking at long term policy changes. This is particularly true for professional corporations which are starting to downsize footprints in commercial leased or owned space, as well as investing in improved information technology infrastructure. While each industry is different, an emerging indicator for whether a given business will continue to increase working from home is the projected impact on productivity. A secondary indicator is the anticipated capital investment cost associated with expanding flexibility to an ever-larger portion of a given business’s work force.

What opportunities do you see for the future arising out of the pandemic? 

In the United States, the trend is to move away from the ‘bricks-and-mortar’ perception of growth and instead look for ways to leverage technology, whether through enhanced file-sharing applications, converting to true paperless environments, or reducing person-to-person interactions via video-conferencing and meetings. 

While the long-term impact on demographic shifts between urban and rural areas remains to be seen, employers are already beginning to market themselves to talent as well-leveraged remote-friendly work environments. In addition, with many businesses reducing or restricting travel, many are beginning to focus developing the expertise and leadership of local managers and teams as part of overall decentralization of operations and oversight. These shifts in focus are creating new opportunities for local employees, businesses and ventures to gain important managerial skills. Leadership, human resource and technology businesses geared to helping industries continue to operate remotely, and to do so with increased efficiency, will play a critical role in what the future of work looks like for most people in the United States over the next 12 to 18 months.

 

Author: Robert W. Hellner

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When you visit any web site, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. We mainly use this information to ensure the site works as you expect it to, and to learn how we can improve the experience in the future. The information does not usually directly identify you, but it can give you a more personalised web experience.
Because we respect your right to privacy, you can choose not to allow some types of cookies. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change permissions. However, blocking some types of cookies may prevent certain site functionality from working as expected

Functional cookies

(Required)

These cookies let you use the website and are required for the website to function as expected.

These cookies are required

Tracking cookies

Anonymous cookies that help us understand the performance of our website and how we can improve the website experience for our users. Some of these may be set by third parties we trust, such as Google Analytics.

They may also be used to personalise your experience on our website by remembering your preferences and settings.

Marketing cookies

These cookies are used to improve and personalise your experience with our brands. We may use these cookies to show adverts for our products, or measure the performance of our adverts.