Lockdown 2021 and beyond: What does your business need to know

The pandemic has seen some rapid changes in the way people work, particularly in sectors where remote working is a possibility, such as the tech sector. So what does the future hold in 2021? We highlight some of the key issues below, with links to further information.

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It seems likely that some of the growth in home working is here to stay. Large scale surveys suggest that businesses are open to elements of their workforce working remotely for up to two days a week. The picture is more mixed for three days or more. The challenge will be to identify which jobs can be done from home whilst still maintaining productivity and the cultural links which give workplaces their identity and dynamism. No doubt the use of technology such as video conferencing and file-sharing will continue to grow.

With the UK’s economic future uncertain it seems inevitable that certain sectors will continue to shrink. Sadly, redundancies loom large in most forecasts for 2021, with the high street, hospitality and tourism particularly hard hit. The tech sector may be better placed to weather the storm but much depends on the wider economy returning to its pre-pandemic levels.

The Government has announced an extension of its Job Retention Scheme until the end of April 2021. Whilst we do not know what will replace it, large scale intervention in the labour market seems set to continue.

In an uncertain labour market, the use of contractors and gig workers is likely to increase. This might be a win/win for employers and the highly skilled. For others, it is more problematic.  To address this we can expect the Government to begin to increase protections for those who fall outside traditional employment, for example around exclusivity clauses and continuous employment.   See our recent article for more information.

Alongside all of this is Brexit. On 31 December 2020, the Future Relationship Act was passed into law, implementing the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement. Clearly, this is likely to have long term and significant implications for all businesses trading with the EU. However, from an employment law perspective, the immediate practical implications are unlikely to be significant. The agreement confirms that the UK will not reduce the level of protection for workers in a manner that has an effect on trade. In the longer term, the agreement does allow the UK to divert from EU based employment laws but it is unclear whether there is any appetite for this.

In terms of the movement of workers, new immigration rules have already been introduced to pave the way for increased levels of visa sponsorship by employers under the new Skilled Worker route.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, or any other employment law related matter, then please contact Michael Halsey in our employment team on 07554 432 829 or at mhalsey@vwv.co.uk.