What legal challenges can HR expect in 2022?

This year will see continuing difficulties brought about by Brexit and the Covid pandemic, as Lauren Bholé explains

What legal challenges can HR expect in 2022?

Hybrid working 

2022 will be the year that organisations must consider how hybrid working fits into their long-term strategy. We start the year again where office workers who can work from home should do so. Even when working from home is no longer encouraged, it is unlikely that all organisations will require employees to return to the office five days a week. Instead, a mixture of home and office working can be expected. The 2021 CBI/Pertemps Employment Trends Survey found 76 per cent of organisations expected hybrid working patterns to increase post-pandemic. 

Some employees may not want to return to the office and organisations will need to consider their business needs and whether office presence is required. Employees’ reasons for not wanting to return to the office will also need to be considered with a view to reaching a solution that works for all concerned to retain and motivate staff. Organisations will need to be mindful of any discriminatory impact caused by compelling employees to return to the office.  

Proximity bias 

Proximity bias is the unconscious tendency to favour those who we see or work closely with on a regular basis. Where organisations allow hybrid working, managers will need to ensure that work and opportunities are distributed evenly between all employees and not just those that they regularly see. To achieve this, organisations should consider if they need to establish systems to distribute work based on new working practices. The survey shows that many organisations have already started thinking about this – 65% have already developed new communication strategies to connect those in and out of the office. 

Right to disconnect 

While home working has many benefits, it has caused the lines between work and home to become blurred. In 2021, other countries such as Ireland introduced right-to-disconnect laws. Who knows if the UK will take the same approach? However, even if they don't, organisations should consider what their strategy will be to ensure that employees get the downtime they need given the renewed focus that the pandemic has brought on mental health and wellbeing. 

Vaccinations  

From April 2022, frontline NHS workers will also be required to have had both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, alongside care home workers. It will be interesting to see whether any other sectors or employers follow suit. For those employees that refuse to have both doses (to prevent challenges from those who have the qualifying service to bring a claim for unfair dismissal) organisations will need to ensure that they have done all they can to try and find them another role that doesn’t require vaccination status and have sound business reasons for mandating vaccination, something which will be harder for some employers than others to do. 

Labour market issues 

2021 was the year that this became a real problem, and in 2022 organisations will have to consider ways to overcome labour market issues. Glassdoor has predicted that in 2022, employees will still be in a powerful position to negotiate what they want. 

It is apparent from the survey that improved pay is not the only way to drive employee engagement but effective line management and ensuring that employees have the right skills and resources to perform their role are also top drivers. Organisations may also look to change the way that they recruit to access a wider pool of applicants. 

Developments

Employment law never stays still for long and 2022 is likely to be no exception. The long-awaited Employment Bill may well feature this year and new duties to prevent sexual harassment as well as changes to flexible working may also be on the cards. What is clear is that HR teams will continue to be busy in 2022. 

Lauren Bholé is an employment associate at Shoosmiths