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Employment Law Developments Around the World

HR Column
Employment laws have been evolving in many countries over the past year. From providing whistleblower protections in the European Union to preventing gender discrimination in China, we examined recent labor developments in various regions and countries across the globe.

Asia

Over the past year, Asia has seen several common trends across the region:

  • Streamlining procedures for bringing claims to court to make it easier for employees to gain access to justice;
  • Increasing the number of employment-related procedures and applications that can be handled online; and
  • Allowing more employees to work remotely, increasing flexibility in working conditions.

China

China issued a notice prohibiting sex discrimination in the recruitment process. The objective of the notice is to increase protections for female employees in the workplace and increase the hiring of women into the workforce. The notice prohibits the following:

  • Employers are prohibited from expressing a preference for a specific gender when posting job openings and during the hiring process. Violators can be subject to penalties and fines of RMB10,000 to RMB50,000, or about US$1,500 to US$7,000.
  • Employers are prohibited from limiting women’s right to bear children, and they cannot make such limitations a condition of being hired.  
  • Employers are prohibited from asking female job candidates about marital status or children. Although no penalties are specified for this violation, employees can resort to the courts and pursue civil remedies.

European Union

EU negotiators have agreed on the terms of a new directive providing whistleblower protections. This development marks the first time the European Union has established a regional framework to protect whistleblowers across all member states.

The European Union also reached a provisional agreement on a directive concerning work-life balance for parents and caregivers, which is intended to repeal the 2010 Parental Leave Directive. The goal of this directive is to address the gender pay and gender pension gaps caused by the greater amounts of leave historically taken by women to  care for family members.

The European Parliament and the Council established a new EU agency: the European Labour Authority (ELA). An important objective of the ELA is to facilitate streamlined ways to manage the increasing numbers of mobile EU workers living and working in different EU member states.

Belgium

In an effort to lower the number of company cars on Belgian roads, Belgium continues to push its “Cash for Car” system. Belgium also offers a “Mobility Budget,” which allows employees to exchange their company car for funds that are equal to the employer’s annual gross cost of the company car. This Mobility Budget can be spent on three possible alternative mobility solutions:

  • A smaller or more eco-friendly car;
  • A subsidy covering ride-sharing or public transportation; or
  • Cash reimbursement for overage at year end.

France

Companies with at least 50 employees are required to publish a yearly gender pay gap review with historic information to provide context into the company’s current statistics. Companies must disclose:

  • The promotion gap between men and women;
  • The wage gap between men and women;
  • The percentage of female employees who received a salary increase in the year they returned from maternity leave;
  • The number of employees of the under-represented sex among the 10 employees who received the highest remunerations; and
  • The gap in the individual salary increases between women and men that does not relate to promotions.

Each indicator is assigned a number of points that combined total 100. Companies must post scores on their web sites annually. Those that do not have web sites must find other means to notify employees. Companies that fail to meet the threshold of 75 points are subject to sanctions.

Germany

In a landmark decision (judgment of 20.12.2018 - 17 Sa 11/18), the State Labor Court of Stuttgart granted a former employee full access to information the employer had about him. The employee was terminated after whistleblowers reported him for committing a breach. The information to which the employee was granted access includes the identity of the whistleblowers. This is the first case pitting employer privacy practices under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) against whistleblower protections. Article 15 of the GDPR bolsters the employee’s right to know what data the employer collects. The employer’s appeal is pending in the Federal Labor Court.

South Africa

South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaposa, signed the National Minimum Wage Act (NMWA) into law. The Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment takes effect right after the NMWA is enacted. Both are intended to tackle wage inequality in Africa’s most industrialized economy. The law sets South Africa’s minimum wage at 20 rand an hour, equal to 3,500 rand (about US$240.00) per month. Previously, South Africa did not have a standard minimum wage.

The Labour Laws Amendment Act is a gender-neutral law providing for 10 days’ parental leave. One of two parents who adopt a child under two years of age is entitled to 10 weeks of adoption leave. Ten weeks’ surrogacy leave is available for all employees who do not qualify for maternity leave. Previously, employees who did not qualify for maternity leave received only three days of paid family responsibility leave for the birth, sickness, or death of the employee's child.

United Kingdom

An appellate court case affirmed that an employer can remain liable for a rogue employee’s data breach, even when the employer is not directly at fault. Employers are responsible for ensuring this potential liability and reviewing processes for providing authorized access to specific groups of employees for specified purposes.

In Timis et al. v. Anor et al., the appellate court confirmed that an individual who subjects a whistleblowing co-worker to harm can be held personally liable for the loss that flows from that detriment, including job loss (£2M in this case, or about US$2.5 million). This is the first decision specifying that a co-worker’s scope of liability includes damages resulting from the whistleblower’s dismissal. It includes situations where a manager dismisses an employee for making a  disclosure of protected information. The employer might be vicariously liable for the damages unless the employer is insolvent.

About the Author

Spiwe L. JeffersonSpiwe L. Jefferson is chief counsel of ChristLight Productions Ltd., Patron Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and Governance Committee Chair of the Board of The BrandLab. She is a member of the ACC employment and labor, law department management, and litigation networks.


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