Joanne Frew: The impact of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill

EU LawThe political landscape has been incredibly unsettled, with three prime ministers in the space of two months. With Rishi Sunak now appointed and warning that the UK faces a profound economic challenge, it will be interesting to see what impact the new government may have on the labour market.

All European Union (EU) derived employment law is under review following the publication of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. With a clear focus on building the economy and supporting business, the bill only allows for reducing – and never imposing – additional regulatory burdens. With such uncertainty, many employees may feel more hesitant to move jobs until it is clearer what impact there may be on workers’ rights. Against a backdrop of a competitive labour market, there has never been a more important time for employers to show their support, helping to create a stable workforce.

Together with political uncertainty and the resultant economic turmoil, the cost-of-living crisis is biting both employers and employees. Rising costs are taking their toll, and many employers are considering new and innovative ways to help support their workforce during this difficult period. With financial constraints making the obvious solution of a pay rise or a one-off cost of living bonus impracticable in many organisations, employers are having to think outside the box.

We have seen some employers allow increased flexibility to help reduce childcare costs. Employees have been allowed to sell back some of their unused annual leave as long as the statutory minimum annual leave is not impacted, providing increased pay for the employee and increased productivity for the employer.

Some employers offer a financial wellbeing policy which may help facilitate financial advice or provide health support when an employee is experiencing stress due to financial concerns. Employers are taking the opportunity to remind employees of existing benefits packages on offer, ensuring the workforce knows what assistance is available and what discounts they can access during these challenging times.

When offering support, it is important for employers to be mindful of any legal implications. For example, do terms and conditions need to be changed to reflect a new flexible way of working? Does the contract allow the employee to take a second job? Employers should also be mindful that people with certain protected characteristics may face more difficulties. For example, the younger workforce is predominantly paid less than older employees. They have also had less time to become economically stable.

It has also been reported that disabled people are disproportionately impacted by the crisis, with benefits falling behind the spiralling cost of living. Inevitably, when the workforce is impacted in different ways, questions of discrimination may arise. Employers must ensure that they take into account their responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010, and that any support is offered in a non-discriminatory way.

As always, employers that create a sense of community and loyalty during this difficult time will come out stronger. Communicating and engaging with employees in an inclusive way and reminding them that you are in it together will help create a unified workforce based on a foundation of trust.

Joanne Frew is partner and interim global head of employment and pensions at DWF