It’s coming to the end of another year and, as is usual in the world of employment law, a lot has happened. Here we look back at some of the most important or memorable developments in employment law and HR in 2021.
Covid restrictions and the end of furlough
It was another year living in the shadow of a pandemic. Businesses opened and shut and opened again. We worked from home, we went back to the office, we worked from home ….and we are still working from home. Businesses had to adapt to this new way of working as well as keep up with ever changing government guidance and restrictions. Some fared better than others with many struggling to keep afloat in the face of constant uncertainty and change.
Then there was the furlough scheme which, originally launched in March 2020, finally came to an end on 30 September 2021 and with it, the end of employment for many, as businesses could no longer continue to pay their wages without government support.
But it was not all doom and gloom. The furlough scheme helped prevent thousands of job losses and the requirement for staff to work from home meant that, for the first time, employers and employees alike got to experience a different way of working. For some it turned out to be something of a revelation – with many businesses deciding to make hybrid working a permanent feature for their staff.
With so many people working from home for the first time, the debate about flexible working took on a new intensity. Everywhere you turned, people were talking about hybrid working and the benefits of a better work/life balance.
The government “think tanks” got caught up in the maelstrom and launched a consultation on “making flexible working the default”- a proposal that employees from day one of employment may be able to make a statutory request for flexible working (currently employees need 26 weeks’ continuous employment).
We at Real Employment Law Advice reported on this consultation and throughout 2021 we provided guidance and updates to our readers through our fortnightly newsletters on this growing trend.
Vaccination – mandatory or voluntary?
Who could forget the single most important development of the year – the introduction of the Covid Vaccine! And who could have envisaged what a controversial topic this would become. Employers battled with the dilemma of whether or not to make the vaccine mandatory among staff – remember the boss of Pimlico Plumbers, Charlie Mullins, announcing his “no jab -no job” policy back in June 2021? After the debate died down a bit, most employers decided not to mandate the vaccine but make it voluntary among staff, except for those where it was necessary from a health and safety perspective.
For owners of care homes, however, the choice was not theirs to give – on 11 November 2021 it became law that anyone working or volunteering in a care home had to be fully vaccinated against coronavirus (COVID-19), unless exempt. Hundreds of care workers left their jobs, refusing to have a vaccine. The law delivered a blow to an industry where staff shortages were already rife, but it was considered an essential step to provide the best protection possible from the virus both for staff and care home residents.