Q&A

Legal
questions and answers

Q
Our company is restructuring to cope with the recent economic downturn. We
need to make certain changes to how our work is organised and this may have an
effect on the employment prospects of some of our staff. A number of employees
have suggested that we have to consult with them over such key issues. Is this
true?

A
A new EC Directive will, progressively over the next seven years, require
employers with more than 50 employees based in the UK to inform and consult
employee representatives on certain key issues.

The
wording of the Directive has now been finalised by the Council and the European
Parliament and it was expected to be formally adopted by the end of March 2002.

Employers
will be required to consult with employees on key issues, for example: the
financial condition of the business; employment prospects; and proposed changes
in work organisation or contractual relations (including redundancies and
restructures).

The
consultation will have to be undertaken with a view to reaching agreement, with
employee representatives having the right to a reasoned response on any points
they make.

The
penalties for failing to meet these requirements will be determined by the
national government, but must be sufficient to be ‘effective, proportionate and
dissuasive’.

The
UK has three years to adopt legislation to implement this directive. And the
indications are that initially thereafter (2005), it will apply only to those
employers with more than 150 employees. However, after two years in 2007, it
will also apply to businesses with 100 or more employees and one year later, to
those with 50 or more.

In
practice, the new directive is likely to have a profound effect on the way
employers take decisions which are likely to have an impact on employment.
‘Management’s right to manage’ is going to be heavily qualified in the future.

Q
We are finding it increasingly difficult to understand the rules and
regulations surrounding data protection. Particularly, over the issue of
workplace monitoring. Will the Employment Practices Data Protection Code
clarify this or is it simply another list of regulations?

A
This Code is designed to assist employers to comply with the Data Protection
Act 1998. The first part of the Code has just been released. It deals with
recruitment and selection. The remaining parts, covering employment records,
monitoring at work and medical information, will be released over the next few
months.

The
code should prove invaluable to employers: by adhering to it, employers are
likely to be able to prevent challenges to their data protection practices; the
code may also help employers to comply with other legislation, such as the
Human Rights Act 1998 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000; and by
following the code, employers may improve their housekeeping practices,
disposing of out-of-date information and improving access to filing systems.

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