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Employment

Yesterday, 10 October, the Supreme Court released its much-anticipated judgement in the Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd appeal, known widely in the press as “the gay cake case”. The case concerned Mr Lee, who had approached Ashers in Belfast, a family-run business whose owners were Christians that held the belief that the only form of marriage consistent with the teachings of the bible was between a man and a woman, to bake him a cake with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage”. Having initially taken his order Ashers subsequently declined to proceed with it and refunded Mr Lee his money and informed him that they could not bake the requested cake as it was inconsistent with their religious beliefs. Mr Lee brought claims for direct discrimination on the grounds of (i) sexual orientation and (ii) political opinion (as is possible in Northern Ireland). Although his claims were successful in the lower courts, the Supreme Court has reversed these decisions issuing a clear and well-reasoned judgement which gets to the heart of what amounts to direct discrimination.

The demand for flexible working is on the rise and it is increasingly clear that employers in the UK will need to respond to this challenge in order to attract and retain staff.  A recent Smarter Working Hub survey revealed that 47% of employees do not have flexible working encouraged at their workplace, yet 67% of employees wish they were offered this opportunity. 

This week, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) released their final report on EEA migration in the UK. The report was commissioned by the Home Secretary in 2017, and its purposes were 1) to look at the impact of EEA migration on the economy and society of the UK and 2) to gather evidence to assist in the development of a new immigration system for the UK post-Brexit.

As has been widely reported in the press this week, the Young Women’s Trust has released the results of their annual survey, which noted that, 100 years on from when the first women got the vote in the UK, there is still widespread inequality for young women. The survey, which questioned a representative sample of 18 – 30 year olds in England and Wales, found in particular:

This month, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) launched new guidance on employee references, an area which employers are often apprehensive about. In a previous Insight post, we discussed the potential GDPR (i.e. data protection) issues which can arise in relation to references.  The ACAS guidance is a useful summary for employers regarding some of their other obligations in relation to the provision of references and the potential risks arising in preparing and providing these.

The plight of the over-burdened “always on” British worker feverishly checking emails on their long commute home and struggling with incipient mental illness has recently been highlighted by certain international comparisons. These demonstrate a marked contrast in the legal regimes applicable to workers in other countries in relation to the regulation of working hours and the positive duty on employers to ensure that their employees do not work excessive hours.

Insurance firm Aviva produced a report this week finding that in the UK, 6.4 million over-50s workers were planning to retire later than they expected compared to 10 years ago. The report found that this was due to the rising cost of living and insufficient pension savings. Government research predicts that by the mid-2030s half of all adults in the UK will be over 50 years of age. By 2025 there will be 300,000 fewer UK-born under 30s. This development combined with the UK’s proposed departure from the EU resulting in fewer EU workers arriving means that there is likely to be a huge increase in necessary reliance on older workers within the UK economy. Aviva are accordingly urging businesses to “increase their commitment to older employees and help them adapt to a longer working life.”

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination and harassment on the grounds of nine “protected characteristics”, one of which is religion or belief. While it is relatively straightforward to identify religions and religious beliefs that are granted protection under the act, courts have grappled in recent years with what types of philosophical beliefs should be protected.

Chambers UK 2018

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