This year will be a challenging and exciting time for the publishing industry, with a continued focus on the digital marketplace, brand and consolidation. In the first of a series of Law-Nows focusing on how the 2014 legal landscape will affect the industry’s response to challenges, we analyse key current employment law issues.

  • Collective consultation: on 21- 22 January, the Court of Appeal is due to hear USDAW v Ethel Austin (‘the Woolworths case’) regarding collective redundancy consultation. The question to be determined by the court is whether employers will trigger stringent and time-consuming collective consultation requirements if they are proposing to make 20+ redundancies in 90 days or less anywhere across their business as a whole or 20+ at just one establishment. With redundancies potentially continuing at bookshop chains and multi-centre publishers, this will be an important decision for the industry.
  • Zero hours contracts: these contracts (i.e. where individuals are retained with no guarantee of work and are only paid for work done) came under scrutiny in 2013, with calls for them to be abolished. Leading publishers moved to dissociate themselves from their use. The Government wants to keep them (in the interests of flexibility), but is consulting on the most controversial elements. This could see exclusivity provisions outlawed and also a requirement for greater transparency. The consultation closes in March 2014. Where publishers still use zero-hours staff, for instance in warehousing, attention should be paid to the changes that come out of this consultation.
  • Payment of interns: there was controversy in 2013 about the large proportion of interns who are unpaid. Failing to pay interns is now a reputational as well as a legal issue. Further, industry commentators have pointed out that unpaid internships threaten the diversity of the publishing profession, as only certain people can afford to get this crucial experience without being paid. Unless an intern is purely ‘work shadowing’ (i.e. not carrying out actual work), the general legal position is that they should be paid the national minimum wage, and publishers should remember this when planning summer internships.
  • Recruitment: There are no legal changes anticipated in general recruitment this year. However, it will continue to be a busy year for recruitment in publishing, particularly in digital support roles. The industry should be sure that recruitment procedures are fit for purpose, including: protecting itself against discrimination or data protection scrutiny if digital searches are to be used in recruitment; ensuring appropriate restrictive covenants are in place; and enhancing protection of intellectual property and corporate social media profiles, to safeguard valuable innovations in book marketing and production. 
  • Employee social media use: driven partly by increased digitisation of books, there will be a continued growth in social media marketing by employees, and not just those in communications roles. As well as great opportunities, social media presents reputational and legal risks, including potential breach of laws regulating advertising and contempt. We address other issues here. Make sure your employees are educated on best practice and repercussions of failing to use social media appropriately, with guidance on use available to all. 

Look out for our forthcoming Law Now, focusing on IP and technology issues facing the publishing industry in 2014.