18 March 2011
In an environment where redundancies have become more common, employment law has been thrown into sharper focus than ever before.
Both the current and previous governments have been pushing through changes to employment legislation, culminating in the Equality Act 2010. Unlike some legislative changes that only affect a certain sector or industry, no company can avoid compliance with this wide-ranging law. The act brings together years of discrimination legislation, but also introduces some elements for the first time. For large multinationals such as accountancy firm Deloitte, however, making sure that employment practices are sound is a mammoth task, and general counsel Caryl Longley explains how she and her team followed the act from day one to ensure that no part took the company by surprise.
Other changes to employment law are more specific. The economic crisis threw the question of remuneration into sharp relief as financial services institutions, particularly banks, were castigated by the media for awarding bonuses even when companies had underperformed.
Dog with a bonus
Regulators including the FSA came under intense pressure to do something about the so-called ’bonus culture’ in the City. But like many other issues it proved impossible to deal with one problem without affecting the rest of the financial services sector. Accordingly, the FSA’s Remuneration Code published in December 2010 covers a wide range of companies, although smaller businesses can take comfort from the regulator’s focus on proportionality.
So it is that Old Mutual Asset Management general counsel Meekal Hashmi has had to review the way the company pays its staff. Like most other asset management businesses, performance-based salaries are a core part of incentives, making them hard to get rid of or change.
The new code is likely to raise all kinds of issues as companies implement it, not only with regard to which staff it should cover but also the form remuneration should take and the prospects for claims by employees.
Litigation in employment is certainly on the rise. Statistics show that Employment Tribunal claims reached an all-time high in 2009-10, mostly concerning unfair dismissal and equal pay. The rise comes as many companies are seeking to get as much as they can out of employees and potential employees.
That is why trade unions such as the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) have begun fighting the cause of the many unpaid interns who spend months working hard in the hope of snaring permanent roles. Internships are common in many industries - particularly the media - and traditionally interns receive only expenses.
But a recent tribunal claim changed the landscape and gave interns hope that they could start making money from the position. This in turn prompted the NUJ to launch a campaign encouraging interns to try to claim the minimum wages they could be entitled to.
We talk to NUJ head of legal Roy Mincoff about the campaign and also about the union’s work on behalf of some of the many media workers to have lost their jobs in recent months. He and his fellow in-housers will be kept busy on these issues for many months.