As today’s workforce becomes increasingly global and mobile, employers face significant challenges not just in their own jurisdictions but also regionally and internationally. To successfully navigate this complex environment, employers require a clear view of the latest regulatory developments and market trends, including:
- Ongoing Legislative Proposals and Reforms
Although the economic outlook for many countries is slowly improving, governments continue to amend existing legislation or pass new laws to make the climate more business friendly. How can employers stay ahead of the curve? We put these new laws in context. For example, France has made significant reforms over the last 12 months to make the labor relations environment more flexible and promote in-house bargaining agreements, while the UK continues to implement measures making it easier and cheaper to dismiss employees and prevent litigation. In Japan, most companies may use dispatched workers only up to three years, but after a planned amendment this time limitation will no longer apply.
- Age-Related Issues
Youth unemployment remains a real headache – particularly across Southern Europe – while governments everywhere, including France, seek to encourage older workers to remain in employment. How do you retire older employees and avoid age discrimination or retaliation claims? Most UK employers must now automatically enroll their employees in retirement benefits. While in the U.S. proposals to raise the retirement age have yet to gain widespread support, the Affordable Care Act expands employers’ healthcare obligations with respect to employees of all ages. Meanwhile Japan continues to strengthen protections afforded to older workers, with employees who have reached the standard retirement age of 60 free to continue working until age 65. And while the PRC has decided in principle to raise the retirement age, the timetable and plan for implementation are still being debated, given the Chinese public’s strong opposition.
- Workplace Technology Issues
Most employers now have a policy on social media—but is it “fit for purpose” as technological developments continue at a rapid-fire pace? What are the risks of allowing your workforce to bring their own devices? How can you roll out global benefit plans and communicate with geographically diverse workforces? In the U.S., several states now restrict employers’ access to employees’ personal social media accounts, and we have seen court decisions in the UK concerning who owns LinkedIn contacts. Meanwhile all 28 European member states will be impacted when the radical data privacy regulation is finalized later this year. Given the territorial extent, these provisions could apply to the rest of the world where employers are handling data from EU citizens. While the PRC government has enhanced data protection for individual consumers’ personal information, it has not yet extended such protection to employees’ personal information.
- Atypical Workers
Employers want flexibility to meet the peaks and troughs of demand, while Generation Y expects more flexibility on hours and the ability to work remotely. This has resulted in more freelancing, self-employment, temporary or contingent working, and even the controversial zero-hours contract. With so many different labels comes increased regulation. Europe and the U.S. have been addressing this issue for some time, but as of March 1, 2014, all employers using a contingent workforce in the PRC must comply with new regulations which redefine the agency workforce in China. This dramatic change may also impact employers in Hong Kong. We analyze this new development in detail in our recent client alert. Meanwhile, from April 2014, fixed-term employees in Japan whose employment period becomes more than five years after renewal(s) are entitled to claim the employment without the fixed term.
- Attracting, Developing, and Retaining Talent
Most employers, regardless of size, will find this is one of the key challenges they face in 2014, particularly in the context of ongoing globalization and mobility. This challenge is even being considered at a country level. For example, in Japan the government has refused to rule out a special economic zone in which Japanese labor laws are not strictly applied, despite fierce opposition from labor unions and workers. And in Hong Kong the government continues to take a non-interventionist approach by focusing on basic statutory protections only.