Last reviewed 30 December 2021

2021 has unquestionably raised unique challenges and opportunities. HR teams have been thrown an abundance of new laws, precedents, guidance and practices, so have been working tirelessly to ensure compliance and satisfaction from their individual organisations. It’s important to look back on the changes which have been implemented and assess what is needed for a successful 2022.

Covid

A full rundown of the Covid-related changes and case law can be found in the Covid round up. However, the key points to remember include the closure of the furlough scheme on 30 September 2021, the ending of the shielding programme on 15 September 2021 and the roll out of mandatory Covid vaccines for CQC-regulated care homes in England.

It was recently confirmed that mandatory vaccinations will be extended to wider health and social care settings from April 2022. This includes public (NHS) and private organisations and will affect all frontline workers who have direct, face-to-face contact with service users, in both a clinical and ancillary role. As such, porters, receptionists and cleaners can expect to be consulted with over the coming weeks in the same way as their colleagues working as doctors, dentists and healthcare assistants.

Following the rise in Omicron cases, the Government announced the implementation of “Plan B,” meaning a return to compulsory face coverings in most indoor places, guidance to work from home and the introduction of Covid passes in nightclubs and large events. Further restrictions may be outlined in the coming weeks, so organisations should remain agile and be prepared to implement changes at short notice.

Sajid Javid outlined booster doses of Covid jabs will be included within the scope of full vaccination as soon as reasonably possible. As such, organisations may need to review the existing Covid status of their workforce and update them on booster vaccine requirements. This will be particularly prevalent for healthcare settings.

Statutory entitlements

The Government approved the introduction of a new statutory entitlement: carer’s leave. This will allow employees with caring responsibilities to take up to one week (five working days) of unpaid leave per year. There is no set date for when this will come into effect. However, the Government’s consultation response document outlines that legislation will be introduced to make carer’s leave a statutory day-one right as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The Government’s public consultation into flexible working closed on 1 December 2021. This considered new measures to make flexible working the default, unless employers have good reason not to. It proposes a day-one right to submit a request and the allowance of more than one request per year; reviews whether the existing eight fair reasons for refusal are still valid and assesses the timeframe employers have to respond. An outcome is expected early next year.

The Real Living Wage rates were increased in November 2021 to £11.05 for workers in London and £9.90 in the rest of the UK. New National Minimum Wage rates have also been confirmed for April 2022 as follows: 23(+)-year-olds = £9.50; 21–22-year-olds = £9.18; 18–20-year-olds = £6.83; 16–17-year-olds = £4.81; Apprentices = £4.81.

Equality and diversity

Gender pay gap reporting has been compulsory for all companies with more than 250 employees since 2017. However, the impact of the Covid pandemic meant employers were given a six-month extension to publish their 2020–2021 report, until 5 October 2021. Normal April deadlines are back in place for the 2021–2022 report.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has called on the UK Government to introduce mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting, in addition to current requirements for gender reports. They’re pushing for such mandates to be in place by 2023. Some organisations are already voluntarily publishing these, but there has been criticism from others that the difficulty in compiling information renders the process ineffective.

A new cross-government Menopause Taskforce has been established. This will look at the role education and training, workplace policies and peer groups for menopausal women can play in supporting women though this challenging time. Many organisations have signed the Menopause Workplace Pledge, showing their commitment to recognise that the menopause can be an issue in the workplace and women need support; talk openly, positively, and respectfully about the menopause; and actively support and inform employees affected by the menopause.

Brexit

The UK officially left the European Union on 31 December 2020. As a result, there were significant changes to the right to work checks and immigration rules which employers had to comply with. Applications for settled status closed at the end of June 2021, however there were limited extensions available for individuals with satisfactory explanations for delays.

Employers have had to adapt their recruitment methods to ensure new employees had the necessary settled or visa status. The introduction of the Government’s new points-based immigration system saw the increase in employers applying for a sponsorship licence to enable them to hire a non-UK citizen who doesn’t have settled status. Amongst the qualifying criteria for a work visa under this scheme, employers had to ensure they were providing the minimum wage requirement and met the job requirements for each role.

IR35

From 6 April 2021, tougher requirements were put on employers to decide the status of contractors, freelancers and consultants. This is to ensure that employers were not evading their tax liabilities by avoiding hiring an individual as an employee when they should have been.

Ultimately, if contractors are assessed and viewed as “deemed workers”, ie they fall inside of IR35, they can no longer be paid “off payroll”. Rather then their invoice being processed via accounts payable, they will be paid via payroll after tax and NI is deducted. Previously, it was the responsibility of the contractor to assess their tax status, but this burden will now fall on the organisation. However, it must be noticed that the status of workers for tax purposes is not the same as the status of workers for employment law purposes.