Back to the Future: where will employment legislation be in 20 years?

20 years of Personnel Today - read more on our anniversary

For Personnel Today’s 20th anniversary issue, Gagandeep Prasad, employment lawyer at Charles Russell, reflects on the future of legislation and the workplace.


The past 20 years have brought dramatic changes in terms of employment protection. Discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation, religion and age are all now prohibited. All workers are entitled to paid annual leave, rest breaks and the national minimum wage. Maternity rights have increased to one years’ leave, regardless of length of service. These have been significant changes, but what will the next 20 years bring?

Move forward to 2013, post-Olympic England…

Sadly the Olympic Games themselves were a disaster. Greenwich flooded in 2011 as a result of global warming and the failure of the Thames Barrier. On the bright side, the temperature outside is 85 degrees and a barbeque on Christmas day is looking likely.

In 2011 the government decided that the default retirement age of 65 should be abolished. For the first time, the average age of the population hit 40-plus, with more than 20% over 50, placing a heavy burden on the working population.

Performance management of older employees has become a significant issue for HR teams.

Maternity and paternity leave are both now at 12 months on full pay, with potential career breaks of up to four years for those with young children. Statutory paid holiday has been increased by European law to 35 days a year.

Since David Cameron became prime minister in 2009, trade unions have had their power eroded. Dispute rights and strike opportunities are now severely limited the national minimum wage has been scrapped and the UK still retains its 48-hour working time opt-out (despite pressure from Europe).

Jump to 2018

While environmental issues became increasingly important at the turn on the millennium, by 2018 all businesses are affected. Recycling targets have to be met or companies are heavily fined. Tenders for new work require a detailed environmental statement on what the business is doing to save our ever-dwindling resources.

As a result there are tax benefits for companies that reduce their carbon footprint. Individuals’ carbon footprints are being closely monitored by the government too. The City of London has become a virtual ghost-town as home and flexible working become standard. The ‘Gooseberry’ provides global coverage for phone, video links, e-mail and access to a virtual world of business meetings.

Employers routinely track their employees’ locations through GSP chips contained in their Gooseberries.

As a result of the changing working patterns and increased mobility of the workforce, there is no longer any distinction between “employees” and “workers”. All those who personally provide work are categorised in the same way and have the same rights. Unfair dismissal applies to all, regardless of length of service. and the cap on potential compensation has been removed.

Employers now have greater access to government databases to ensure they are only employing those with a right to work in the UK. Immigration databases and access to the Criminal Records Bureau have both meant that employers hold a vast array of ‘intelligent data’ about all employees. A Big Brother mentality is truly the norm.

The workforce continues to age as there are fewer young people and the reproduction rate remains low. Companies are finding that this brings certain pressures, both in terms of recruitment issues and managing an older workforce. The state pension has been abolished and employers are obliged to fund minimum pensions for all workers. The NHS has been privatised and employers are also funding private health care for their workers, at significant cost. This has resulted in the reduction of other benefits for workers, as employers’ pension and health costs escalate.

Proceed to 2023

Flexible working has progressed further still, with most organisations renting serviced offices only as and when necessary. With the assistance of helmets with screens, virtual meetings are now standard practice. Companies employ staff based all over the world and are no longer constrained to employ on a location basis, but purely by who is best-placed to perform the work.

Global restrictive covenants are commonplace, and regularly enforced by the courts, as flexible working means that limiting restrictions geographically is irrelevant.

It is 2028

The backlash has begun. Despite the technological advancements, companies are beginning to return to manned offices as ‘team spirit’ has been eroded by remote working practices. Surveys have found that loyalty among workers is distinctly lacking as employees jump from role to role, seeking out better opportunities on a regular basis. This has led to a lack of business continuity for many employers and a fall in profits. More businesses are therefore looking to go ‘back-to-basics’, re-forming offices in an attempt to build team spirit and loyalty.

The much anticipated obesity ‘epidemic’ has hit the UK. This has contributed to lobbyists for Physical Attribute Discrimination increasing the pressure to introduce legislation to protect individuals from discrimination based on their look to include size, height and hair colour.

Nicotine has been criminalised and pubs have become alcohol free.

Fact or fiction? Time will tell…

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