Recruiters’ legal obligations when workers switch occupations

17 Sep 2020 By Carla Feakins

Hiring professionals can take advantage of the rapidly evolving jobs market but must comply with key responsibilities, says Carla Feakins

Covid-19 has driven rapid changes in the jobs market, with some roles now in extremely high demand while others are almost disappearing. Recently published data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) highlights that between January and June 2020 more workers changed occupation than during the same period last year, with over half simultaneously moving into a different major industry.

This was despite the government’s furlough scheme being in place during most of that period. At its peak, the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) supported 9.4 million jobs.   

For recruiters who can adapt quickly, there are opportunities to thrive in those areas experiencing rapid expansion and to help workers to switch into new sectors. 

Occupational switching

It is clear from the ONS data that there is significant movement in some parts of the job market, with many individuals switching sectors in addition to changing their job. Positions classified as ‘associate professional and technical occupations’ have been especially volatile: large numbers of individuals both started and left these types of roles in the first half of the year.  

Recruiters can play a key role in supporting individuals to change not just their occupation but also the sector in which they work. Importantly, recruiters are subject to legal regulations which protect hirers and work-seekers. These require recruiters to:

ensure that both hirers and work-seekers are aware of any requirements, whether imposed by law or any relevant professional body, which must be met before work can start; and

make proper enquiries to verify that a placement is not detrimental to the interests of either the hirer or those of the work-seeker.

These obligations are particularly crucial during a time in which changes are being introduced at a rapid rate, in response to the challenges arising from the pandemic. Recruiters need to keep up to date and be prepared to update hirers and work-seekers when new rules come into effect.  

In addition, recruiters should take care to ask questions to understand what is in the best interests of both hirers and work-seekers. This obligation is far broader than health and safety information, covered by separate legal obligations, in that it requires recruiters to take a holistic view. Significantly, the risks of getting this wrong include potential criminal penalties.  

Growth areas

Some sectors are thriving as the job market rapidly evolves in response to the pandemic, and new ways of working are emerging. Recent employer surveys have confirmed that there is an increasing demand for home working and flexible working. Certain major employers have made headlines over the past few weeks by announcing that they intend to allow their workforces to continue working remotely either some or all of the time, on a permanent basis. While this approach will suit some sectors, such as technology and professional services, others may find it more challenging.  

The healthcare job market is currently experiencing rapid growth, but recruiters need to be aware that as a regulated sector, like agriculture and food processing and depending on the specific roles under consideration, the recruiter may be required to possess a licence and comply with a more rigorous compliance regime.  

A continuing trend

Looking forward to the remainder of this year, with the imminent winding-down of the CJRS, we expect to see the trend of occupational switching develop still further with growing evidence of workers transitioning to a different sector or industry.  

Recruiters are ideally placed to provide workers with informed guidance on both the types of opportunities available as well as the professional experience and qualifications they may need to change occupation. There is also scope for agile recruiters to adapt and move into those sectors and industries experiencing growth, despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic.  

Carla Feakins is a senior associate in the employment team at Lewis Silkin

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