Law firms across the city in demand after Brexit

Clients now seeking legal guidance on the various implications of Brexit

Top law firms in the City, including Clifford Chance, Dechert and Simmons & Simmons, have had to set up special Brexit hotlines, manned by lawyers, to help deal with the number of clients contacting them regarding legal questions after Brexit.

Teams have also been set up by other law firms, to answer clients questions regarding the wide range of implications after Britain voted to leave the EU – from company law, tax, environmental law, intellectual property, employment and financial regulation.

Up until the UK formally exits the EU, legislation that exists at the moment will stay the same but when we do finally leave the EU, parliament in the UK will be faced with a significant legislative review operation.

Lawyers have advised, that in the short term, clients might end some of their existing contracts, or property agreements that contain built-in Brexit specifications.

Head of the Brexit advisory team, for the law firm Pinsent Masons, Guy Lougher, said: “This is a huge change. Clients need to systematically look at every aspect of their commercial operations and the legal and financial risks they face after Brexit.”

Mark Curtis, who is head of the international corporate and commercial practice at the law firm Simmons & Simmons, said that the special Brexit hotline set up at their firm, had been receiving calls from concerned clients before the day of the vote.

Mr Curtis added: “We are going to see an extended period of uncertainty when our clients need to plan and assess what they need to do and cover all aspects of their operation from data to employment.”

According to Lord Goldsmith QC, London co-managing partner at the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton, the regulatory and legal implications caused by Brexit will be compelling.

He went on to say: “The environment in which businesses operate here and in Europe is going to fundamentally change as EU and UK law is unpicked, and new patterns are established.”

When we eventually do leave the EU, the UK parliament will have to make the decision as to whether they change the current laws which stem from the EU, or keep them.

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Zero-hour contracts: a contentious employment law issue

How the Sports Direct scandal has caused an outcry against zero-hour contracts

Following the recent Sports Direct scandal, which exposed the appalling working conditions endured by Sports Direct warehouse staff, the controversial issue of zero-hour contracts is back firmly in the limelight. Here we discuss the nature of zero-hour contracts in relation to the Sports Direct exposé.

The Guardian’s investigation into the international sports retailer, Sports Direct, revealed an environment that was ruled by fear; a fear that was propelled by the powerlessness of workers employed under zero-hour contracts.

The exposé made headlines last week, as founder and director of the firm, Mark Ashley admitted breaching a number of employment laws, including not paying his warehouse employees in line with the national minimum wage.

The Guardian found that workers at Sports Direct’s main warehouse were required to stay behind after shifts for up to 20 minutes without payment, while they queued up to be searched by paranoid management.

Employees were also docked 15 minutes of pay when they clocked in just a minute late, and were hounded by constant tannoy announcements urging them to work faster. On a more sinister note, reports suggest a number of health and safety issues, including the birth of a baby in the warehouse toilets that went ignored.

Sports Direct management felt it could operate in this immoral manner because 80 per cent of its workers are employed on zero-hour contracts, which renders them powerless due to the unstable nature of their employment.

Those who kick up a fuss are at risk of being given no working hours week after week from irritated management, and yet they are still classed as employed in the eyes of the Department for Work and Pensions, meaning they are not entitled to job seeker’s allowance if they quit to find a more desirable position.

Although employees with a zero-hour contract are entitled to annual leave and the national living wage, they are often treated as sub-standard workers and are excluded from bonuses and other employee benefits that a company may offer.

In 2015, the Labour Force Survey found that 744,000 people are employed on a zero-hour contract, but this figure is thought to be much higher in reality. There are now calls from MPs to ban this type of employment contract, but Prime Minister David Cameron said there are currently no plans to do so.

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Workplace dress code: What are the laws?

Employment law: outraged woman sets up petition to ask the government to change the dress code law

A new employment law debate is raging across the UK after one outraged woman took to social media to complain that she was sent home from a temporary corporate receptionist position because she refused to wear high-heeled shoes.

Nicola Thorp walked into her new job at a City of London corporate firm wearing smart flat shoes. She was told immediately that she would have to change her flat shoes to high-heels, with an heel height of between two to four inches.

Woman sets up a petition to ban employers from demanding high-heels in the workplace

The petition on the website

Ms Thorp refused to comply with these dress code demands as her nine-hour shift involved escorting clients to and from meeting rooms and she did not believe she could manage the whole day wearing high-heels. She was consequently told to go home without pay.

Under the current law, employers can set “reasonable” dress code rules for men and women. The dress code can be different for men and women but must be the “equivalent level of smartness”.

So technically, employers can demand that female employers wear high-heels in the workplace without them breaching the law.

According to a podiatrist from the College of Podiatry, wearing high-heels for long periods of time on a regular basis can cause back problems, bunions, calve pain and can result in ankle injuries.

Ms Thorp has since launched a petition to the government for “women to have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work”. It has since been signed over 140,000 times and must now be debated in Parliament.

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New report claims lax regulations are ‘killing thousands in UK’

Open University professor says the government is not doing enough to tackle air pollution and food poisoning

According to a new report published by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS), the UK government’s lack of regulation and law enforcement for pollution and health and safety is causing ‘thousands’ of unnecessary deaths every year.

The report, written by the Open University’s head of social policy and criminology, Professor Steve Tombs, states that successive UK governments’ failure to act upon air pollution and poor health and safety practices in private businesses is tantamount to “business-generated, state-facilitated social murder”.

Statistics from the report claim that 29,000 deaths per year are caused by air pollution; over 50,000 deaths are caused by health issues or injuries sustained or resulting from workplace conditions; and approximately 500 people die every year due to food poisoning.

Professor Tombs blames this on the government’s attitude towards pollution and a reduction in the number of independent inspections carried out across UK businesses.

The report claims that between 2004 and 2014, there was a 34 per cent reduction in the number of food standard inspections and a 53 per cent reduction in the number of health and safety inspections.

According to the report, local authorities are now giving 44 per cent of their environmental and health and safety regulatory budget to third-party contractors, which, says Professor Tombs, is one of the factors negatively impacting the public’s health and safety.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that “improving air quality is a priority” for the government. However, Professor Tombs, and others, believe that insufficient regulatory action is allowing companies to take advantage at the risk of public health.

Professor Tombs cited the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal as an example of why privatised businesses should not be trusted and need to be independently inspected on a regular basis.

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Employment law specialist calls for an end to ‘fattism’

A specialist judge and university professor call for new legislation to protect larger workers

A British judge specialising in employment law has called for the end of discrimination against larger people in the workplace.

Judge Philip Rostant published a piece in the Modern Law Review journal describing the challenges faced by larger people who suffer from prejudice on a daily basis. He called for a new law to be introduced which would enable workers with a larger figure to more easily sue any colleagues who insult them because of their weight.

The academic paper, co-written with Sheffield University professor of law, Tamara Hervey, reminds readers of the Equality Act of 2010, which protects workers who suffer discrimination because of their race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, and religion, but not workers who suffer at work because of their weight.

The paper, titled ‘All About that Bass? Is Non‐Ideal Weight Discrimination Unlawful in the UK?’, states: “This situation leaves a gap in the law, which is remediable only by legislative reform.”

The new legislation should offer protection to workers of a “non-ideal weight”, who find themselves prejudiced against in their workplace and when applying for a new position, claim Judge Rostant and Professor Hervey.

According to the authors, larger people are often denied a job position due solely to their weight and also receive less pay on average than their thinner counterparts. This is often due to an employer’s “attitudinal assumptions” that larger people “are insufficiently self-motivated to make good employees”.

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TUC report claims ‘Brexit’ could impact health and safety

A Trades Union Congress report suggests a ‘Brexit’ could result in increased worker injuries and accidents

A report published last week by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), claims that if the UK voted out of the European Union in the June referendum, health and safety in the workplace could be negatively impacted.

According to the report, titled ‘EU Membership and Health and Safety’, the EU’s legislation on UK health and safety regulations has helped reduce the number of injuries and accidents sustained in the workplace.

The report was published on April 28, also the International Workers’ Memorial Day, and was meant to highlight how the EU rules have positively affected health and safety within Britain.

The report states that between 1997 and 2009, the UK imposed 41 new health and safety laws which originated from EU legislation; in total, 65 new laws were introduced within those years. In addition, the report claims that EU rules helped reduce workplace fatalities from 368 in 1992 to 142 in 2015.

According to the Trades Union Congress, the health and safety legislation for the construction industry, for police officers and for the control of asbestos are just three of the major areas where EU regulations have had a significant affect.

If the British public vote to leave the EU, the UK government can choose to retain EU laws or dispose of them. The General Secretary of TUC, Frances O’Grady, said that the government has already showed signs of “its readiness to water down key health and safety rules”.

The suggestion that health and safety standards would slip in Britain if a ‘Brexit’ took place, is a contentious statement considering that the UK is held as a global model for effective health and safety in the workplace.

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Scotland proposes employment tribunal devolution

Employment tribunals could be devolved in Scotland in favour of Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS)

The Scottish Government has been criticised after announcing the possibility of devolving the Employment Tribunal system in Scotland and transferring its functions to the First-Tier Tribunal for Scotland.

A Draft Order in Council was produced on behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in reaction to a suggestion by the Smith Commission, which said that Employment Tribunal law should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

At present, the UK Government’s employment tribunals are responsible for the administration of Scottish employment cases, however, if the devolution was to go ahead, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) would then take over the function of the UK Government’s employment tribunals.

The Faculty of Advocates said that the move could threaten the integrity of employment cases, as specialist employment law judges will be replaced by the general judges of the First-Tier Tribunal for Scotland.

The Faculty said that this could negatively “impact on the quality of justice provided” and could potentially create a “two-tier” employment law system in the UK, which would be to the detriment of Scotland and its residents, who would experience a “downgrading of employment and equality law”.

The plans put forward in the Draft Order in Council state that only employment law cases with “a sufficient link to Scotland” could be heard by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS).

The Faculty thinks that limiting the cases which can be heard in Scotland could result in some claimants being unfairly denied access to an employment tribunal and therefore denied justice.

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The controversy surrounding the new junior doctors contract

Junior doctors in England strike following outcry at the newly released junior doctor contract

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has issued a warning to health authorities following the release of the controversial new contract for junior doctors, which contains some rules that could apparently result in discrimination against women and single parents.

The new contract for junior doctors working in England was published on March 31 and has since been severely criticised for containing points which could indirectly discriminate against women working part-time; single parents; and women taking maternity leave.

A Government analysis of the contract claims that some of the new points may place women and single parents at a disadvantage and may also result in “adverse impacts regarding maternity [leave]”.

Junior doctors strike following anger at new contract

Junior doctors strike following anger at new contract

However, the analysis goes on to add that there are both advantages and disadvantages for these groups and that the government does “not consider that this would amount to indirect discrimination as the impacts can be comfortably justified.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has come under fire for the contract and two groups of junior doctors have already sent him letters before action, threatening court proceedings against the imposition of the new contract.

There have been four days of protests on the streets of London on behalf of junior doctors, supported by some British TV personalities, including the cast of Green Wings and actress Vanessa Redgrave. Junior doctors have been striking since negotiations with the government broke down and more strikes are planned for the coming weeks.

The junior doctors’ leader at the British Medical Association, Dr Johann Malawana, said: “Any future action is wholly avoidable, but the government must get back around the negotiating table and end this dispute through talks.”

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April 2016 employment law changes: Part Two

Employment law changes will come into effect at the beginning of April

Last week we outlined four major employment law changes that are to be introduced in April 2016. This week we bring you four more important changes that will effect employers and employees across the UK.

1) The government is expected to introduce new public-sector exit payment recovery regulations in April 2016 but this is not yet definite as the government is still in process of analysing consultation feedback.

However, if the regulations go ahead, high-earning (£80,000+) public-sector employees will be required to repay exit payments (voluntary exit payments, redundancy payments, early retirement/pension payments) if they return to work in the public-sector within 12 months.

Important changes to be introduced to employment law legislation

Employment law to undergo changes from April

2) Employers who provide a certificate of sponsorship for a skilled worker to come to the UK from abroad must pay tier 2 workers a minimum salary of £35,000 from April 6, 2016.

3) The government will introduce a financial penalty system for employers who do not pay the full compensation award or Acas settlement sum to successful tribunal claimants. The penalty will be 50% of the outstanding amount, with a minimum penalty of £100 and a maximum of £5,000.

4) The final point of which employers and employees should be aware, is that there will be no change made to statutory sick pay rates and statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay rates in April 2016. These pay rates will remain the same as April 2015.

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MPs pen letter to PM requesting review of Sunday trading laws

Boris Johnson and fellow MPs pen letter to David Cameron asking for more lenient Sunday trading laws

A collection of 40 MPs from up and down the country have wrote a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron urging him to fast-track plans to relax the current Sunday trading laws which have not been reviewed since 1994.

MPs request Sunday trading laws review

Larger stores can only open for six hours on Sundays

The open letter was penned by more than 40 MPs throughout England, including London MP Boris Johnson, Kevin Hollinrake, Thirsk and Malton MP, and some 40 other MPs from Darlington, Sunderland, Northumberland, York, North Yorkshire, Scarborough, Richmondshire and Cleveland, amongst others. The move was also supported by over 150 nationwide councillors who also welcome a review of the laws.

In accordance with the present Sunday trading laws, larger stores and supermarkets operating within a space of more than 280 square metres can open for only six hours between 10am and 6pm on a Sunday.

The MPs and councillors in favour of a review believe the current Sunday trading laws are outdated and that “nowadays people rightly expect greater flexibility in all aspects of their lives”. The Business Secretary Sajid Javid said that employee’s rights would not be effected and the move could boost the country economy by £1.4bn per year.

The proposal has been met with opposition from church leaders and Usdaw, the shop workers’ union, who claim the introduction of more lenient Sunday trading laws could unsettle family life and is “undesirable and unworkable” for shop workers.

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