Issue 24

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

Our 21 questions and answers for HR managers in 2021 thought leadership campaign continues this month. Visit our online interactive guide and learn more about common challenges HR will face this year in France, Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.

Hot news: lunch "al desko" now legal in France

Many measures have been introduced in the past year to assist with ensuring the safety of workplaces by maintaining social distancing. A recent example is the French Ministry of Labour allowing staff to enjoy their lunch in front of their computer monitor and keyboard setup. Until now, the practice could see French employers subjected to a fine under the French labour code.

Se habla alemán? The issue of a common language for German employees and unions

The German labour market has become more diverse in recent years, especially for white collar jobs. Employers question whether the use of the local language is suitable for communications with employees and unions and what the legal framework is to adopt corporate language policies.

Unlike with English, the level of German language spoken by international staff is often very basic. A court ruling has now decided that employers may use foreign language speaking managers as a point of contact with labour unions.

Whistleblowing surges in the financial sector

Tip-off reports to the regulator of the UK financial services industry have jumped five-fold amid growing finance worker concerns that their employers were acting unfairly towards their customers.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) received 347 complaints of such misconduct from whistleblowers in 2019 compared to 73 in 2017. The unfair treatment could include overcharging clients by misrepresenting financial information and denying legitimate insurance claims.

The FCA took action in just under half of cases in 2019 leading to concerns that few firms are reprimanded following protected disclosures. Whistleblower charity Protect said around three quarters of all financial whistleblower complaints stemmed from banks or insurance firms.

Finance executives are most concerned about ESG risks

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues are the greatest near-term concern for risk managers at financial institutions. However, only 33% of chief risk officers or equivalent executives consider their firms to be either extremely or very effective at managing this risk.

Banks comprised more than half of the 57 firms surveyed in a Deloitte poll on risk management in the global financial services industry. Insurers, asset managers and other financial service providers made up the remainder. Deloitte's head of risk and financial advisory noted it is harder for financial firms to adapt to changes in the ESG environment as they must consider their clients' carbon footprint, social and other impact on top of their own.

Risk managers view cybersecurity rules as the most concerning from the perspective of the potential impact of regulatory and supervisory changes in the next two years.

Proposed quotas for board-level gender diversity in Dutch companies

The Dutch government will vote on a new law setting a mandatory quota for female executives of Dutch companies. This would require at least 33% of supervisory boards to be represented by women, but management boards are not covered. The Netherlands Institute for Social Research said there are fewer women in managerial roles as they are more likely to work part-time.

Measures introduced in recent years to increase female participation at board level have been unsuccessful. In 2020, there were no female members on the board of directors in 67% of Dutch listed companies. The target of at least 30% females at executive level was met by only 10% of firms. The Chairwoman of the large employers' organisation VNO-NCW said a quota system "is working in Germany, France and Italy and it has made a big difference there".

Professional Equality Index – the clock is ticking…

All French companies with more than 50 employees have until the end of February to calculate and publish their 2021 Professional Equality Index – a tool designed to measure the gender pay gap. It takes the shape of a score out of 100 points which employers calculate based on four or five indicators (dependent on company size) such as differences in salary or promotion.

Employers with a resulting score below 75 points have three years to comply by adopting corrective measures (including a salary catch-up plan) otherwise they face a financial penalty of up to 1% of the total payroll. Companies must submit their overall score to the Ministry of Labour and their Social and Economic Committee.

Top roles in Britain's blue-chip companies have no Black representation

There are no Black chairs, chief executive officers or chief financial officers in the FTSE 100 for the first time in six years, according to research by recruitment and diversity consultancy Green Park. Only 10 of 297 executives in these top roles have ethnic minority backgrounds.

Green Park chair Trevor Phillips said "corporate leaders need to stop telling us how much they care and do something to show us that black lives really do matter". The report also showed that Britain's biggest firms are unlikely to meet the government target of at least one ethnically diverse board member by 2021.

Agreement on home office regulation in Austria

On 27 January 2021, the Austrian government and the social partners reached an agreement on a national "home office" regulation. Working from home remains a matter of agreement, there will be tax benefits of up to EUR 600 for employees, and staff in a home office are insured against accidents. The decision on the rules in the National Council, which is expected very soon, is eagerly awaited.

Minimum wage boost for Poles in 2021

Poland's minimum monthly wage has risen to PLN 2,800 (around EUR 615, USD 745), from PLN 2,600 in 2020. The wage hikes are part of a package of spending pledges Poland’s ruling conservatives had made ahead of 2019 parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had announced then that the minimum wage in Poland would increase in stages in 2020 and 2021.

500 British firms are weighing a move to the Netherlands

Due to Brexit and to avoid a lot of paperwork, some British businesses which export to the EU have been advised to establish a separate company in the area. The Dutch foreign investment agency NFIA has been in contact with around 500 British companies who are considering the Netherlands as a new base within the EU.

This month, the NFIA will publish the number of British companies that set up shop somewhere in the Netherlands in 2020 due to Brexit-related reasons. In 2019, the figure was 78, but recent months have seen the most activity since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Google to settle pay and hiring discrimination claims in US

Tech giant Google will pay $3.8 million to more than 5500 employees and unsuccessful job applicants to settle allegations of systemic compensation and hiring discrimination at its premises in California and Washington state.

The agreement reached with the Labor Department will see Google pay $1.35 million in back pay and interest to 2,565 underpaid female employees in engineering roles, and $1.23 million in back pay and interest to 1,757 female and 1,219 Asian software engineering applicants it passed over.

A cash reserve of at least $1.25 million in pay adjustments will be set aside for engineers in several of its US locations and current policies will be reviewed. The Labour Department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs said "employers must conduct regular pay equity audits to ensure that their compensation systems promote equal opportunity".