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It’s no surprise that Brexit is leaving most employers and employees in a legal limbo. For all that many may be expecting the post-Brexit environment to be weighed towards employees, of the moment uncertainty only depresses worker’s rights and forces them to cling to whatever signs of stability in employment they can find.
Brexit fears have exposed how a record number of UK Employees are drastically underpaid, with almost 440 thousand people paid below minimum wage, and over 6 million people earn below the ‘real living wage’ of £9/hour or £10.55/hour required to keep their heads above water. The report by the Low Pay Commission found that a higher proportion of women were underpaid and the youngest and oldest were the more affected than other age groups.
This is not new, as the annual list of underpaying companies released by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy shows. However the fears of a contracting economy presents a hindrance for small business owners to adjust their pay scales. In order to pay everyone, both employers and employees fear that someone needs to be let go.
Coming to Work Sick Just to Keep Present
Among the most desperate of actions by employees in order to appear valuable is to come to work even when unwell. Already over 70% of UK workers choose to still go to work when they feel ill, a study found. This is presenteeism, and coming to work even when ill has several possible reasons behind it. The fear of staying off work for days may be interpreted as lacking commitment is one, similar to company peer pressure and the high demands of a competitive culture workplace. Other reasons cited are a lack of adequate sick pay and experienced financial difficulties that stress employees to show up to work even when feeling ill.
In a time when there is a labor shortage and other employees are working for more hours for less pay, absenteeism is stigmatized. Many employees reported they already work 68 days more per year than they need to, without overtime pay, as they are required by their bosses to sign a waiver in their employment contract.
The risks of presenteeism however, are many. Apart from worsening the employees health, there is also the danger of infecting more people in the workplace and impacting productivity. For non-infectious long-term ailments, it can worsen to the point of a disability.
The greatest irony is that when someone goes to work when mildly under the weather, others also feel pressured to imitate them in order to demonstrate passion and commitment for their jobs. There is also how high workload and job insecurity itself may require time away from work before developing into illness, but workers feel wary about the consequences of staying away from work until they are eventually forced to do so by burnout or stress-related ailments.
The stigma comes from “older generations that never accepted that someone can be truly be working productively at home”, said George Boué, a vice president of Human Resources at Stiles Corporation. There is a deep suspicion that workers cannot keep on task when they are not under the eye.
Jobs that were once formal fulltime work have become uncertain and transitory in a more gig-based economy. Now employees can be temporary, seasonal, part-time, by agency, freelance, platform-based, outsourced, subcontracted, marginal, etc., and both managers and employees seek some form of stability.
Mike Marsen of the health services company Allies for Health + Wellbeing and a member of the Society for Human Resources Management’s HR discipline expertise panel says there are two types of managers. “The first believes that employees are inherently not willing to work and thus need a lot of rules. These managers will be predisposed to think the worst of any employee, especially when illness is brought up as an excuse for being out of the office.
“The other kind of manager will try to set reasonable standards and trust employees to be adults. The onus is on managers themselves to create a culture where employees feel empowered to take time off, he says. The best way is through leading by example.”
The Holiday Campaign, the Four-Day Work Week and Other Experiments
With the predicted labor crunch after Brexit hits, the government is pulling out all stops to present the UK as still an attractive place for skilled and reliable workers.
It is estimated that in the UK, 1.8 million people are not receiving the holiday pay they are entitled to, and so recently the government launched the “It Comes With the Job” advertising campaign to make employees more aware of their rights as part of the 2017 Industrial Strategy.
Another experiment is the Four-Day Work Week, endorsed by many employers and employees. A recent Oxford study suggested that working four days could improve productivity, leading to a healthier workforce, reduction in sickness absences and better work-life balance. However, it has also its criticisms in that reduced work hours negatively impact those who do need those paid hours. In some sense it is necessary to combat work fatigue, as many in the UK find themselves actually working seven days in the week just to keep ends met. Critics of the theory point to France which implemented a 35-hour work week and the reduction to four working days reduced rather than increased overall employment for those affected by the law.
With the TOEIC scandal having deported over 1000 students and locked away in limbo almost 30,000 other student and work visas, the Home Office finds itself under fire for broad brush responses that drive away thousands of skilled workers and students and leaving them no way to appeal and clear their name.
Many Sick Leave and Time Off Protection Laws are Actually Derived from EU Legislation
The Working Time Regulations 1998 and The Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2007 implement the EC Working Time Directive which guarantee workers the right for fair working conditions as set out in Principle 10 of the EU Pillar of Social Rights and Article 31 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. These laws provide the limit to weekly working hours, a rest break and minimum daily rest period, the mount of paid annual leave, holiday pay, and maternity and parental leave.
International standards also serve other legislations in place to prevent and remedy discrimination and harassment based on many factors, and whistleblower protection, such as the Equality Act 2010. TUPE regulations smooth the transfer of employees between companies. These protections for workers are to universalize the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital between member states.
Other employment law rights, such as the protection from unfair dismissal and the rights when engaging in strikes, derive solely from UK regulations. When the UK finally leaves the EU, certain laws derived from EU regulations might need to be changed.
Theresa May pledged to “embed the strongest possible protections” for worker rights and entitlements in replacement for scrapped EU laws but Labor and unions remain unconvinced. Even if the parliament did pass equivalent laws to EU standards, they would still lose out on key features like rights having primacy over local laws and the effective enforcement of remedies.
Unions and employment solicitors are concerned that after Brexit, workers will lose access to EU courts that have largely proven to give more sympathetic interpretations of the law to their concerns rather than corporate interests. The UK has a record of resistance to the pro-worker legislation developed by the EU. Labor simply does not trust that the PM’s offer even approaches the need to give precarious workers the full protection they used to enjoy under EU employment law.
Both workers and employers need to keep well-informed and motivated to fight for their rights in order to avoid chaos in their workplace as Brexit finally hits. Delays only keep heightening the uncertainty, even if the worst should hit would be relief, as now they have a stability of a sort to finally get around to fixing it.