The Law in 4: Employment and Immigration news 23/11/2022

Every other week we give you the run-down on 4 updates from the world of employment and HR. Whether it be a tribunal case, government decision or anything else for that matter – we’ve got it covered. The news this week brought Hunt’s autumn budget, claims of bullying in the Government, a surprise backer of migrant workers, and Ronaldo committing gross misconduct. Check it out!

1. The Autumn Budget: What HR needs to know

On the 17th November, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt revealed his plans to ‘tackle the cost of living crisis and rebuild our economy’ with his new autumn budget. The budget will undoubtedly have an impact on employers, so here’s a quick run-down of a couple of policies that may be most significant:

  • National Living Wage to Increase

In a move that the Chancellor hopes will benefit more than two million of the UK’s lowest paid workers, national living wage rates are set to increase come April 2023. Currently, the national living wage for those over 23 years old is £9.50, which come the next fiscal year will increase by 9.7% to £10.42. As times get tougher, the extra cash for employees on the national living wage is obviously good news. However, small businesses may struggle to reach the uplift. Records show that this is the largest hike in the national living wage to date, and the jump may be costly for businesses who are already struggling.

  • Tax Freeze

National Insurance and inheritance tax thresholds are going to remain unchanged until April 2028, and the threshold for the top income tax band will be reduced from £150,000 to £125,140. While these changes will only affect higher paid employees, the squeeze may cause talent to look elsewhere for higher paying opportunities that would bridge the gap created by paying more tax. However, the Bank of England has predicted that unemployment rates will rise to 4.9% by the end of 2024 – up 1.3% from where we currently are. If true, vacancies will fall and competitive salaries will be scarce.

2. Has Raab Bullied Employees? 

Over the past two weeks, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has faced accusations of bullying staff. This isn’t the first time Raab has been called out for his behaviour, having faced a bullying claim back in 2007 before he became an MP. This time though the affair is much more public, as two formal complaints were submitted last week.

The incident at hand claims that Raab exploded and took his temper out on his employees by way of flinging three tomatoes from his Pret salad across the table. Reports have painted a rather unflattering picture of the MP, with employees in the Ministry of Justice having described his return to the department back in October as ‘impending doom.’ Raab has denied the accusations, but Lisa Nandy who was shadow foreign secretary while Raab was foreign secretary, told Sky News that it was an “open secret” bullying was happening behind closed doors.

The issue is to be investigated, with the latest update claiming that No10 is looking to appoint an independent investigator. However, Downing Street refused to guarantee they will act on the findings or that they will even be published. Bullying itself is not against the law, so there is no legal definition for the behaviour, but harassment is. Harassment is when unwanted behaviour is linked to a protected characteristic such as age, disability or race to name a few. The details of the allegations are vague, so we will have to wait and see if there’s any merit to them and if so, what the consequences will be.

3. A Call for Migrant Workers from Brexit Backing Boss

Pro-Brexit Chief Executive of Next, Lord Wolfson, has said that the UK needs more migrant workers. In a statement to the BBC he said “in respect of immigration, it’s definitely not the Brexit that I wanted, or indeed, many people who voted Brexit wanted”. The frustration comes from worker shortages post-Brexit in sectors such as healthcare and hospitality which heavily rely on foreign workers. Lord Wolfson called for the government to decide on an approach that prevents a “fortress Britain” which prevents workers being able to fill important gaps in the UK talent market.  The labour supply challenges are felt most by small businesses, as the end of freedom of movement for EU citizens to and from the UK has made recruiting from Europe challenging.

Lord Wolfson is not alone in his concerns, CBI boss Tony Danker has called for transparency from the government about the “vast” labour shortages, claiming that “we don’t have the people we need nor do we have the productivity”. He claims that there is a “skills mismatch” with the available vacancies and talent in the UK that cannot be re-balanced without migrant workers. Last month, CBI released survey data that revealed almost three-quarters of UK companies have suffered from labour shortages in the past year, and nearly half want the government to grant temporary visas for roles that were in “obvious shortage”.

4. Ronaldo v Manchester United: Gross Misconduct in the Premier League

Last week Ronaldo found himself in hot water with his employer, Manchester United, after comments made in a interview with Piers Morgan hit the headlines. During the conversation, Ronaldo criticised the club itself, the owners and the manager. The point of interest for us of course, is whether the comments could amount to breach of contract. Standard Premier League employment contracts place players under an obligation to not say anything that would bring the club into disrepute, and it is pretty safe to say that his scathing comments would amount to a breach of contract. The question at hand is whether the club decides that his actions amount to gross misconduct and terminate his contract immediately, or whether it will launch disciplinary action and potentially fine him.

With the issue being so public from the outset, it is hard to know what Manchester United’s next move will be. The public nature of the issue could make terminating his contract more appealing, to make a statement to the world about their strength. However, Ronaldo could challenge any course of action that United choose. If the issue was handled with an internal hearing that Ronaldo could challenge, the mess would be confined to the clubs’ walls. If they terminate his contract, he could appeal to the Premier League which would be a much more public affair. There is no precedent for this situation, making it an extremely unique case of potential gross misconduct.