24 February 2022
Work/Life – 9 of 56 Insights
Welcome to the latest edition of our international employment news update.
Under Belgian reforms, full-time workers have won the right to condense their Monday to Friday working week into four days without loss of salary - if their employer agrees. Labour minister, Pierre-Yves Dermagne, commented that this is about 'flexibility for workers who ask for it' and that employers must have 'solid reasons for any refusal'. We will discuss the trend for four-day weeks in our webinar on Thursday 24 February at 4pm - register here. The Belgian reforms also grant the 'right to disconnect' to employees at private companies. It is expected that private employers will only be able to contact their employees outside normal working hours for exceptional and unforeseen reasons where the employee needs to take action that cannot wait until the next working period. The employee shall not be prejudiced if they do not answer their phone or read work-related messages outside their normal working hours.
The UK government-backed body, the FTSE Women Leaders Review, has said FTSE 350 companies will be expected to have 40% female representation on boards and leadership teams by the end of 2025. They encourage companies to have a woman in at least one of four top positions: chief executive, finance director, board chair or senior independent director.
Meanwhile, the new German coalition government has indicated that it will agree to an EU proposal for a women's quota on board members that will be presented to EU labour ministers on 14 March 2022. The proposal stipulates that at least 40 per cent of non-executive company board members should be women. The previous government under Angela Merkel had rejected the proposal for about a decade. The new government instead welcomes the EU's directive as a 'necessary step towards greater gender equality' according to Anne Spiegel, the minister for family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth.
Technology companies increasingly expect us to spend time working in the metaverse, a shared virtual world. UK employment legislation may not be prepared for this virtual development. It may not even apply to those working in the metaverse, as the virtual environment could create a decentralised workspace made up of geographically scattered individuals. In such a situation, would the law of the country where the employee, the company, or the IT server is based apply? Other possible issues include whether the legal tests for discrimination and harassment will work in the metaverse. At present, UK workers can be discriminated against or harassed in relation to nine protected characteristics such as sex and race. These laws may be hard to apply in a space where individuals create avatars and can present themselves as anything they like.
New workplace technologies, known as 'algorithmic management', are moving from gig platforms and warehouses into offices and the working world more widely. These technologies use AI to monitor and score employees. Whilst some products protect employees' health and safety by monitoring their temperatures and whether workers are keeping two metres apart, others are aimed at ensuring productivity in remote workplaces by detecting 'suspicious' behaviour or 'employee deviance'. Such products raise employment law and GDPR issues.
Renfe has been inundated with 28,000 applications from Saudi women for 30 female train driver roles in Saudi Arabia. Renfe believes that this is the first time in Saudi Arabian history that Saudi women have been able to apply for a train driver role. Successful applicants will drive the new high-speed trains that connect Mecca and Medina. It would generally be unlawful to specify sex as a condition of such jobs in Europe.
The Home Secretary announced that new applications for Tier 1 investor visas, for those investing at least £2 million in the UK, have been stopped with immediate effect on 17 February 2022 as part of a 'renewed crackdown on illicit finance and fraud'. The scheme, first set up in 2008 to encourage wealthy individuals to invest in the UK, has been under review for some time. The Home Office commented that individuals hoping to settle in the UK will now have to show they are 'executing an investment strategy that can show genuine job creation and other tangible economic impacts'.
1,430 public sector workers in New York City have been dismissed over their refusal to get the Covid-19 vaccine ahead of the city's mandated 11 February deadline. Those dismissed represent less than 1% of New York's 370,000 strong public sector workforce. According to a City Hall spokesperson, around 3,000 workers were originally at risk of being dismissed but over half of them got vaccinated before the deadline.
At least five healthcare workers are suing their employers for the emotional and financial damage caused by long Covid where they caught the virus in the workplace. Personal injury lawyers are representing two of the healthcare workers whilst the other three workers' cases will be supervised by FNV Bureau Beroepsziekten (Occupational Diseases Bureau).
For several years, the established law has been that an employer's failure to comply with their maximum working week legal obligations does not prejudice the employee per se. So where an employer has failed, the employee still has to demonstrate that they have suffered a loss to claim damages. However, under the influence of EU law, the French Supreme Court has recently held that if an employee works more than the maximum 48 hours per week it necessarily means the employee suffers damage. The Court changed its approach based on several EU Court of Justice ('CJEU') decisions which provide that an employee does not need to show they have suffered a specific loss as a result of their employer's maximum working week violation as exceeding a 48-hour working week necessarily entails depriving the employee of rest time which is a sufficient loss. The case is notable because it indicates the French courts are placing greater consideration on CJEU decisions.