Issue 22

Welcome to the latest edition of our international employment news update.

More women on German management boards

Women in Germany are still underrepresented in leading positions in the private and public sectors. A new law now requires listed companies which have equal co-determination rights to have at least one woman on management boards with four or more members.

Temp workers in Austria considered part of the permanent workforce

Temporary workers in Austria must be counted as employees when electing a works council, irrespective of the duration of their employment. This was clarified in a recent decision by the Austrian Supreme Court and will impact employers as the number of works council members is dependent on the number of employees. Also, works council agreements could now apply to temporary workers with immediate effect. Read our coverage of the Court's decision here.

UK firms publicly shamed for "wage theft"

Tesco, the UK's largest private sector employer, has topped a government list of 139 companies that have failed to pay workers the minimum wage. Over 78,000 workers were underpaid due to a technical error resulting in failure to properly account for all employees' time. Tesco expressed its disappointment over being named by the business department, as it self-reported the issue to HM Revenue and Customs.

Other cases include employers making deductions from salary for training and uniform. The UK government has reintroduced its naming policy for breach of wage and time recording rules after a long gap, but has not announced any plans to update tougher requirements to record time seemingly required by a European Court judgment.

Global insurer offers UK staff paid lockdown leave

Zurich UK is offering parents facing childcare emergencies two weeks leave on full pay. This can be taken individually or consecutively while schools remain closed. The benefit also applies to carers of vulnerable family members.

It follows updated government guidance that employers can furlough employees (with state aid) who are unable to work due to childcare responsibilities caused by school closures.

More aid for employers and self-employed persons in Slovakia in response to stricter COVID-19 measures

In late 2020, the Slovak government updated the conditions for provision of state aid to employers and self-employed persons hit by the coronavirus pandemic. They can now receive higher compensation under more business-friendly rules. The new conditions apply retroactively from 1 October 2020 and are projected to remain in place until at least 31 March 2021.

Employers back routine testing of key workers

UK business groups are supporting plans to prioritise frontline workers who are unable to homework for regular rapid testing for coronavirus. The Confederation of British Industry said employers will facilitate the initiative as "the health and safety of staff is paramount". 15 large employers in the food, manufacturing, energy and retail sectors have trialled regular staff testing across 64 sites.

The government will offer lateral flow tests – which provide results in 30 minutes – to private and public sector key workers, who represent one-third of the UK workforce. Employers and local councils will be responsible for administering the tests.

Employers should be cautious when demanding staff are vaccinated

Employers in some countries can require staff COVID-19 vaccinations, subject to the fast-changing context. However, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has advised US employers that staff who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 on the ground of medical conditions or religious beliefs cannot be excluded from the workplace unless no reasonable adjustment can be made.

Employers may only legally ask workers for the reasons for refusal of the vaccine if the information is "job related and consistent with business necessity". EEOC guidance says employers who choose not to administer vaccines at the workplace can compel employees to prove that they have been vaccinated without contravening the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Writing for The Times, our co-head of International Employment, Sean Nesbitt, recently discussed the UK position and how vaccine nudge campaigns will avoid a legal minefield. Like in the US, in situations where employees work in an area with a material risk of infection and vaccinations are accepted as safe and effective, employers can mandate vaccinations of employees, subject to any underlying health conditions and belief rights.

Expats in the Netherlands set to experience tax changes; more COVID support

International workers based in the Netherlands will be impacted by a wide range of tax changes that came into effect on 1 January 2021. The basic tax rate has been cut from 37.35% to 37.1% for income up to €68,507. Support measures for businesses which have been financially impacted by coronavirus have been extended into 2021. Businesses suffering a 20% or more loss of revenue will receive assistance with staff salaries.

Poland issues the most EU residence permits to immigrants

According to the latest statistics released by Eurostat – the statistical office of the European Union – Poland has, for the third consecutive year, issued the highest number of first residence permits to immigrants from outside the EU. Germany, Spain and France take the subsequent spots. Of the 724,416 issued Polish permits, 86% were for employment reasons. 83% were issued to Ukrainians.

Sexual harassment worsened by remote working

A quarter of the women in the UK who have encountered sexual harassment in the remote workplace say the situation was aggravated by the introduction of the March lockdown, according to a poll by Rights of Women. Many workers were forced to spend more time online to work remotely and perpetrators used technology to facilitate new methods for abuse.

The survey, by the leading advice line for sexual harassment, also revealed that over 70% of victims report that their employer does not have adequate protective measures in place to keep them safe from abuse. Rights for Women said the current legal framework for sexual harassment complaints is "not fit for purpose" and suggested that legislation and guidance must be introduced to address the issue.