The Law in 4: Employment and Immigration news 26/10/2022

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 brings IR35 updates (again!), a big pay-out over reasonable adjustments, menopause in discussion, and the future of AI in HR. Check it out!

1. Hunt Scrapped plans to reverse IR35 – and Tax Experts aren’t impressed.

Jeremy Hunt has decided to scrap plans repeal the off-payroll IR35 reforms under a month since Kwasi Kwarteng had announced the reversal, in a move which is bound to irritate employers everywhere. Employee status has been a head scratching issue since April last year, and Kwarteng’s promise to reverse the scheme in his mini budget announcement was a glimmer of hope. Kwarteng’s plan would have liberalised the off-payroll system and made it easier to hire contractors, placing the tax responsibility back on their shoulders.

Last week, tax advisors flagged issues with the current system that Hunt will need to address if he keeps it in place, the most obvious of which is its confusing complexity. Advisors have called for an ‘objective statutory test’ for determining employment status, and described the current set up as having ‘colossal uncertainty’. This issue has created detriment to many, with the CEO of IR35 Shield, Dave Chaplin, estimating that around half of genuinely self-employed workers are misclassified. The Government has said in a statement “With or without the reforms, the underlying rules on off-payroll working are unchanged — anyone working like an employee should pay similar tax as someone who is directly employed.”

2. HMRC Employee wins £244,000 over Reasonable Adjustments

A HMRC staffer was awarded £244k in compensation from HM Revenue & Customs last month, after she won her unfair dismissal claim against the agency in 2016. Elaine Worsley had worked at HMRC as an administrative officer for 45 years, and was only 4 years away from retirement, when she was fired for falling out with her manager.

In 2014, a team meeting was held that discussed the need for there to be a skeleton crew working over Christmas. The claimant asked for 4 days off during the festive period, including 31st December as she was owed a large amount of annual leave, having not had a substantial summer break. After this a series of unfortunate events between the pair took place that worsened relations, which in part caused Worsley to take sick leave in late December and never return to work. Having provided evidence to her employer that her symptoms of depression are linked to work related stress, she requested to move teams so she could continue her employment. Her manager recommended that she instead be dismissed, due to her 3-month absence from work.

In this particular case, the claimant’s depression was held to be a disability under the Equality Act, and HMRC’s failure to make reasonable adjustments by offering her a similar position in a different team was ultimately their downfall. The Tribunal found that a reasonable employer of the same size and undertaking as HMRC would not have dismissed an employee in similar circumstances. With the hefty remedy being rewarded recently at a total of £243,957, the case is a reminder of how important reasonable adjustment are, and how costly not making them can be.

3. Report shows the Impact of Menopause on Employees

On 12th October 2022, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) published a report following conclusions of an inquiry into the impact of menopause from an employment aspect. The body was created in 2021 by Caroline Harris MP to educate policymakers, the public, and employers.

The report notes that as menopause is not currently a protected characteristic, it has been easy for employers to overlook their obligations towards their afflicted employees. Those who have experienced discrimination may be hesitant to turn to the law for help, as they face a challenging and uncertain path to justice.

The report notes that the current lack of guidance for employers makes navigating the issue tricky, as there is no one-size fits all approach. The APPG recommends the government must update and promote guidance on best practice, and co-ordinate an employer-led campaign that tackles the taboo surrounding menopause.

4. Has AI been affecting the Employee Lifecycle?

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recently published a policy paper titled ‘AI Governance and Regulation: Policy Statement’, which sets out the governments approach to regulating artificial intelligence. The policy will impact employers who use technology to, for example, filter CVS and applications, screen candidates with online tests, and conduct employee reviews and appraisals.

The aim of the policy is to remove any potential bias created by the AI decisions. The proposal envisages adopting a high-level set of principles that allow regulations to ensure the safety and security of AI, as well as making sure that the technology is explainable to users. The policy also plans to create clear routes to contest decisions made using AI.

The policy is not expected to come into effect until 2023, until then employers who use AI to aid their employment team should consider completing due diligence before implementing tools, encourage HR to be transparent with candidates about the technology and its purpose, and implement some form of human review process.