Employment Law Updates: Maintaining Compliance in 2021

December 22, 2020 5 Minute Read

It's been a year of upheaval for employers. Every year brings labor law updates for employers to contend with, but 2020 was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic globally and a turbulent political atmosphere in many countries. Businesses have been forced to quickly adapt and implement new HR policies in response to rapidly fluctuating best practices.

As employers look ahead to the new year, what do they need to know to support their employees and maintain compliance in 2021? In this blog, we’ll cover the new global labor laws taking effect in the new year and the most significant employment trends to keep in mind.

Paid Leave Laws

The coronavirus pandemic shed light on the need for greater leave benefits. Lack of paid sick leave left some employees without benefits during a public health crisis, while others also performed double duty as they cared for children while working from home. Here's how some jurisdictions are addressing these issues: 

  • France doubled paid paternity leave from 14 to 28 days. Seven days of this leave will be mandatory and companies that fail to comply will face fines of up to €7,500 ($9,154). The reform takes effect in July.
  • In the US, California expanded paid family and medical leave, building on previous work to extend paid family leave benefits from six to eight weeks for parents of a newborn. Currently, employers with 50 or more employees must provide this leave; the new law lowers the size threshold to five or more, giving an additional 6 million workers access to protected leave. The new law takes effect Jan. 1.
  • The New York State Sick Leave (NYSSL) Law took effect Sept. 30. It requires employers to provide their employees with sick leave. Employers with five or more employees or a net income of more than $1 million must provide paid sick leave, while employers with fewer than five employees and a net income of $1 million or less must provide unpaid sick leave. The amount of leave will depend on employer size. Employees will be entitled to use NYSSL starting Jan. 1.
  • New Zealand’s government has pledged to increase paid sick leave from five days to 10. The new bill was announced on Nov. 30 and is expected to pass in mid-2021. Government officials pointed to the pandemic as the driving force behind the legislation, underscoring how important it is for workers to stay home to stop the spread of illness if they are sick.

These are just a few of the laws introduced globally this year to provide more paid leave to employees; it’s important to monitor this area of employment law to ensure your company is complying with any new requirements.

COVID-19 Regulations

The pandemic created the need for employers to think about employee health and safety in entirely new ways. Companies faced new regulations for reporting coronavirus cases, implementing employee testing and screening, and maintaining the integrity of data privacy laws. These concerns will only amplify in 2021 as the vaccine is widely administered and more offices welcome back workers.

The most pressing question many employers will have going into the new year is whether they can legally mandate the vaccine, since that’s the surest way to create a safe return to work.

In the US, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has clarified that employers may legally require their employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine and provide proof of vaccination unless employees are unable to receive it due to a disability or sincerely held religious belief. Those exceptions are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act of 1964, respectively. If no reasonable accommodation is possible, employers may prohibit the employee from entering the workplace, but not necessarily fire them.

Other countries are less clear on employers’ right to mandate vaccinations. For instance, companies in Europe must comply with vaccine regulations that differ by country but are unlikely to mandate employee vaccinations overall.

In the UK, employers are likelier to encourage workers to take the vaccine rather than mandate it. However, employers in the social care sector may be able to issue a “reasonable instruction” to employees to vaccinate since they come into contact with vulnerable populations. If any employees refuse to get vaccinated, employers may be able to dismiss them, although each situation will require an individual assessment, and employers should seek alternative solutions where possible. Employers in sectors such as professional services, where employees can work productively from home, may not have as much justification for asking employees to vaccinate.

As the vaccine is more widely distributed, you must monitor guidance from local governments and understand the boundaries around what you may legally ask employees to do before they return to work. Only then will you be able to prepare for all the possibilities, including how you'll proceed if employees refuse to vaccinate.

Wage Increases

Many countries passed legislation this year to increase wages in 2021, which may be significant for employers still feeling the effects of the pandemic.  

The UK government announced that from April 1, 2021, the national living wage will increase from £8.72 ($11.64) to £8.91 ($11.89) per hour. This will be extended to workers who are 23 and 24 years old, whereas it currently applies to workers aged 25 and above. The national minimum wage rates for those under 23 will also increase.

In New Zealand, the minimum wage is expected to increase from NZ$18.90 ($13.37) per hour to NZ$20 ($14.15) per hour in 2021. Up to 175,000 workers could receive a wage boost, which is estimated to increase wages by NZ$216 million ($153 million) across the entire economy.

More than two dozen states in the US are set to increase their minimum wage in 2021, with most taking effect on Jan. 1. Minimum wage increases will also occur at the local level in many counties and cities. 

Global businesses must ensure they’re remaining compliant with local wage laws. You may want to consider setting salaries that reflect minimum wage increases to continue to offer competitive pay that attracts the brightest talent.

Remote Work Laws

The pandemic forced employers to adapt to remote work. It may have been with some hesitation at first, but as the pandemic stretched on, many employers and employees alike have come to see the benefits of telecommuting. Going into 2021 and beyond, a hybrid workforce may soon become the new norm. Many jurisdictions have recognized this and passed new employment laws to encourage remote work, or to at least draw distinct boundaries for employers and employees.

In September, Spain passed a new law to regulate remote work. It requires remote working arrangements to be formalized in written agreements, and states that remote work must be voluntary for the employee and that employees cannot be terminated for refusing to work remotely. The law prevents employers from providing favorable treatment to office-based employees and requires them to bear the reasonable costs that arise from working remotely, such as the cost of buying office equipment. Employers must maintain the rights to privacy and to digitally disconnect outside of working hours.

Germany has drafted legislation to give workers the legal right to work from home. In Ireland, proposals for remote work guidelines also seek to guarantee the rights for employees to request remote work, to have appropriate equipment provided by employers, and to “switch off” from work.

When you consider what your company’s transition to a post-pandemic workplace will look like, it’s important to remain aware of the obligations surrounding remote work as the trend continues to evolve in 2021.

Read more: Download The New Normal: HR Practices to Reimagine Post-COVID eBook

The Most Effective Way to Ensure Compliance in 2021

Clearly, 2021 promises to be a year of big change for employment law. How does your business plan to keep up with all of the changes? It’s a burdensome task, even more so during a year when many businesses will be shifting out of survival mode and focusing on their strategies for recovery and growth. Using your in-house teams to perform research takes away from core business operations and leaves a lot of room for error, but legal consulting is often expensive and inefficient.

Expandopedia is a single source of labor law information for every country your business employs in, plus expert help when you need it, allowing you to save money and free up time to focus on growing your business. Contact us here to learn how Expandopedia’s business intelligence platform and consulting services can provide the accurate, up-to-date employment law information and personalized insights you need to ensure compliance in 2021.   

About Expandopedia:

Expandopedia is a global compliance and business intelligence platform designed for HR professionals and business strategists.

Headquartered in Chicago, Expandopedia is powered by a global network of HR & Legal professionals to provide the intelligence that businesses need to thrive and remain compliant when running a multinational business.

Expandopedia provides all the knowledge and insights to successfully onboard, retain and offboard employees as well as data-driven analysis to empower strategic decision making.

Written by Annalisa Rodriguez


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