Be Global: 2017 in review

Be Global Series

Be Global: Employment law newsletter

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In this month's edition of Be Global, we bring together a summary of the most significant international employment law developments from the past 12 months, as reported on GENIE. Data privacy, whistleblowing, worker status and gender equality have all been standout themes, while we continue to track the impact of shifting political change on employment law policy around the world. This year has also seen significant developments in the areas of working time and workplace pensions. This update highlights developments in all of these areas across EMEA, APAC and the Americas.

Shifting political landscape and employment law reform

Political change continues to impact employment policy and legislation. This year, elections or changes of leadership in France, the UK, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, the Netherlands, Austria, the Czech Republic and New Zealand have all had impacts on local employment policy. Brexit continues to be a significant concern for business as we await clarity on the final EU/UK deal. In the US, as federal policies under the new administration continue to evolve, there have been some significant changes in employment policy at state level. In France, major labor reforms are being implemented by President Macron as promised in his election campaign; the prospective coalition government in the Netherlands plans changes to labor regulation; and, in New Zealand, the new Labor Government has made numerous proposals for change. In Brazil, President Temer introduced important new employment reforms despite the ongoing political crisis. Meanwhile in the UK, a major development this year (and reminder that reforms cannot fall outside the scope of a government's powers) was the Supreme Court's decision that employment tribunal fees, introduced in 2013 by the coalition government, were unlawful and prevent access to justice. Read more.

Data privacy

The protection of personal data continues to be an important focus for governments around the world and nowhere more so than in Europe where the May 2018 implementation date for the EU's General Data Protection Regulation is fast approaching. Elsewhere, new laws have also come into effect in China and Canada, while Russia has seen an increase in fines for personal data violations. Singapore's Personal Data Protection Commission has consulted on a review of its data privacy legislation, with changes expected in the course of the next year. 2018 will also be significant for employers in South Africa when the Protection of Personal Information Act, which has been on the statute book since 2013, is due to finally come into full effect. Read more.

Employment status

Employment status has been a hot topic in 2017, particularly but not exclusively in the UK where the Taylor Review published its report on employment practices in the modern economy and there were separate government reviews on the tax/social security treatment of contingent workers. Also in the UK, multiple cases progressed through the employment courts, with the Supreme Court due to hear worker status arguments in early 2018. Elsewhere, tighter labour leasing rules came into effect in Germany in 2017; in the Netherlands the rules on the taxation of contractors are under review; and in Canada, employment laws in Ontario are being amended to add protection for part-time, casual and agency staff. Fair working conditions are also being considered and consulted on in the European Pillar of Social Rights as well as in a Global Commission of the ILO. Read more.

Working time

Although the Working Time Directive is now over 14 years old, exactly what it requires in practice continues to be the subject of case law, both in the European Court of Justice and in national courts around the EU. The European Commission has published further Guidance on the Directive and, although its status is unclear, this is expected to be influential in assessing an employer's compliance with working time rules. Elsewhere, including Japan and Hong Kong, legislative initiatives are being pursued which aim to curtail long working hours. Another trend in relation to working time is regulation, such as that in Italy and Romania, which seeks to provide flexibility in working relationships, while at the same time protecting workers rights. Read more.

Global mobility

Regulation impacting on global mobility programmes is ever evolving and 2017 has seen significant changes to immigration rules in a number of jurisdictions. In the Middle East, increasing local unemployment levels have led to nationalisation programmes to promote the hiring and training of nationals. In the US, immigration rules have been significantly tightened over recent months, while in Australia, sweeping changes have been made to employer sponsored skilled migration visas. Across the EU, tighter rules under the Posted Workers Enforcement Directive, which apply to an EU worker posted temporarily to another EU state, have been implemented over the past year, as well as rules increasing employers obligations to check an individual's right to work before hiring. Read more.

Gender equality

Although rules against gender discrimination, as well as equal pay rights, are enshrined in law in many jurisdictions across the globe, women's pay nonetheless continues to trail behind that of their male colleagues and there continue to be fewer women in leadership roles. In view of this, action on gender equality has taken significant strides forward during 2017, with two particular strategies being deployed. First, various Governments are taking the approach of requiring greater pay transparency. For example, in Germany gender pay transparency rules came into effect on 1 July 2017 and in the UK gender pay reporting became mandatory from April 2017, with the first round of reports due by 4 April 2018 at the latest. Although in the US, the administration has pulled back from a federal level reporting requirement, this is nonetheless being pursued by many state regulators. The second approach being adopted is the use of quotas. Here, Austria has set a requirement for 30% of board members to be female, while the proposed EU Directive on this topic suggests a 40% threshold. Elsewhere, the Gender Balance Council in the UAE has issued guidance to assist companies to achieve gender balance within their organisation. Read more.

Anti-corruption and whistleblowing

Many countries around the globe have some form of specific whistleblower protection, but this legal protection varies in its scope and effect. Although this remains the case, and even EU wide rules on the topic remain some way off, 2017 has seen various jurisdictions pursuing their own initiatives. In France, a new law requires certain employers to introduce a whistleblowing framework by 1 January 2018 and new rules also came into effect in Norway in July 2017. Draft legislation is making progress in both Italy and Australia and there are also proposals for reform in Russia. A separate device which Governments are increasingly considering as a means to root out corrupt employers is the requirement for transparency in supply chains. In the UK, all businesses within the scope of the Modern Slavery legislation should have published their annual transparency statement during 2017. Elsewhere, a new law imposing a "duty of vigilance" has come into effect in France and legislation is being consulted on in both Australia and the Netherlands. Read more.

Pensions and retirement

The gap in pension funding is a concern for governments across the globe and a variety of legislative measures are being implemented to address the problem. Increasing obligations on employees to save for retirement, and corresponding obligations on employers to pay into pension funds, are being pursued in, for example, Poland, Germany and Canada. Meanwhile in jurisdictions such as Thailand, Singapore and Columbia, increased protections against dismissal are being given to older workers with a view to keeping them in employment for longer. Read more.