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Stretched resources: immigration and gender pay equity

Two stories in the UK headlines today relate to stretched resources: The Home Office preparing its immigration system for life after Brexit, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) enforcing employers to publish information on their gender pay gap.

Immigration system

According to the British House of Commons, it is unlikely the UK will have an immigration system in place when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019. The government has not published its future policy. This is causing distress for EU citizens living in Britain, and for UK businesses that rely on EU citizens.

An estimated three million EU citizens will need to register as having the right to be in the UK. Border force agencies will struggle to carry out checks on EU citizens arriving in the country. Agencies like Visas and Immigration, Immigration Enforcement and other departments of the Home Office will also feel the impact of the extra caseload. These services are already finding it difficult to cope, resulting in occasional poor decision-making. Dentons has worked with clients to help overcome these poor decisions.

The UK government is due to publish a white paper on immigration policy; already postponed from last autumn, it seems unlikely to see release before March 2019. Ministers working on the white paper have said the delay is to consider the Migration Advisory Committee’s report due in September 2018. Dentons contributed to this report, so we hope to see the collated views of our clients reflected in the future shape of UK immigration rules.

Gender pay equity

By April 4, 2018 companies with 250 or more employees are required to report the gender pay gap in their workforces. Questions have already been raised about whether the gender pay gap regulations under the Equality Act have teeth to motivate business to properly comply. On top of this, it seems likely the EHRC will struggle with having sufficient resources to enforce the regulations.

However, EHRC Chief Executive Rebecca Hilsenrath has distanced the commission from the responsibility of ensuring compliance. She has described the EHRC to the Financial Times as a “strategic enforcer” that looks at novel points of law”, and “at cases which will clarify the law”, and “where impact lies.” Therefore, the EHRC does not see itself as taking on all breaches of the Equality Act.

This bears out in the EHRC’s budget information: The government is not allocating additional resources for work on gender pay reporting. The EHRC will seek to increase its budget if many companies fail to comply with gender pay reporting. Having already seen its funding cut by 25 percent in the 2016–2020 spending review, a crystal ball is probably not needed to predict how any request for a budget increase will be answered.

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Stretched resources: immigration and gender pay equity

New requirement for public sector workers to speak fluent English

Effective November 21, 2016, public bodies in the UK will be under a duty to ensure that staff in customer-facing roles can speak fluent English (or, if in Wales, fluent Welsh). The purpose of this requirement is to ensure that relevant staff members have a command of spoken English that is sufficient to enable the effective performance of their role.

The new duty applies to both existing staff and new recruits of bodies that carry out functions of a public nature, including, but not limited to, the NHS, local governmental bodies, central government departments, state schools and public corporations.

The responsibility for ensuring that the relevant individuals meet the required level of fluency lies with the public authorities. Employers may decide to measure this formally (e.g., through testing) or informally (e.g., through a two-way conversation during the interview). The government has published a code of practice to help employers meet the correct standard. The code suggests that the level of fluency expected of the staff member will vary depending on:

  • The frequency of spoken communications with the public
  • The topic and length of the spoken interactions
  • Whether the communications are likely to include technical, profession-specific or specialist vocabulary
  • How significant the spoken interactions are to the delivery of service

We encourage all public authorities to make existing staff aware of the new requirement and the consequences of failing to meet the necessary levels of spoken English. Where appropriate, employers may also wish to amend employment contracts to make performance of the relevant roles conditional upon the individual meeting the required standard of fluency. As a matter of best practice, employers should update recruitment processes so that job postings clearly set out the standard of English required for the particular role and adhere to that standard when assessing a candidate’s suitability for the position.

Where an existing staff member fails to meet the necessary threshold, we recommend that employers provide the necessary training and monitor the staff member’s progress. If an employer determines that there has not been sufficient improvement in the staff member’s spoken English within a reasonable period of time, the employer should try to identify whether there is a suitable alternative position available for that staff member or whether the staff member’s role can be modified so that it is not customer-facing. That said, employers should exercise caution before imposing any unilateral changes. Most important, employers should only consider dismissal as a last resort, and we recommend that any employer considering this option seek legal advice first.

In line with this new requirement, employers must set up a complaint procedure that members of the public will be able to use to express dissatisfaction about a staff member’s English-speaking skills. Maintaining necessary levels of fluency will therefore serve to protect an employer’s reputation for customer service by limiting the number of complaints it receives.

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New requirement for public sector workers to speak fluent English

New year, new employment issues


The mission of Dentons’ Global Employment Lawyer is to keep you informed of significant trends and developments in the area of global employment and labor law, wherever they take place, so that you are in a better position to make educated business decisions. Thank you for helping to make the first edition of the Global Employment Lawyer a huge success!

In this second edition of the Dentons’ Global Employment Lawyer, our lawyers examine:

  • Options for dealing with employee layoffs in China for foreign investors
  • Canada’s recent decision to require employee accommodation for childcare responsibilities
  • Restrictions under Polish law which can affect employment settlements
  • Romania’s recent decisions effecting union standing and disciplinary actions against employees
  • Specific ambiguities in Egyptian labor law on financial entitlements, employment terminations and collective dispute resolution mechanisms
  • UK’s recent employment decision potentially increasing the amount of holiday pay owed to certain overtime workers
  • Current and pending changes to US employment regulations for 2015, including laws affecting paid sick leave, anti discrimination and bullying, social media, severance and more
  • US IRS regulation Section 457A’s effect on deferred compensation for US taxpayers who work for non-US entities
  • Recap of Dentons’ client seminar on critical employment issues for multinationals

Read the complete issue

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New year, new employment issues