The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (also known as the “furlough scheme”) has been in operation since April 2020, as part of the United Kingdom government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The scheme has enabled employers across the UK to retain their employees and protect jobs preventing unemployment and mass redundancies or reductions in force.
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has held in Asda Stores Ltd v. Brierley and others that Asda supermarket retail employees can appoint Asda depot workers as their comparators in an equal pay claim despite their working in different ‘establishments’ of the business.
Under section 109(1) of the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010), an employer is liable for acts of discrimination, harassment, and victimisation carried out by its employees in the course of employment: “[a]nything done by a person (A) in the course of A’s employment must be treated as also done by the employer.” Section 109 further states that “[i]t does not matter whether that thing is done with the employer’s … knowledge or approval.” However, under section 109(4) EA 2010, an employer has a defence if it can demonstrate that it “took all reasonable steps” to prevent the employee from carrying out the act of discrimination. When considering an employer’s defence that it took all reasonable steps to prevent an employee from discriminating against another employee, a tribunal will examine how effective the steps were likely to be when they were taken and how effective they proved to be in practice. The decision of Allay (UK) Ltd v Mr S Gehlen looks at the scope of this defence.
As the 4 April 2021, gender pay gap reporting deadline approaches, the UK government has published an updated set of guidance for employers on the gender pay gap reporting requirements. Although the reporting requirements have not changed, the guidance has been updated to include information for employers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular relating to furlough leave and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).
On 4 January 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a third national lockdown in England. The regulations allow the lockdown to continue until 31 March 2021, although the restrictions are expected to be reviewed in mid-February to allow for the possible reopening of schools. All of the United Kingdom is now under strict measures to curb the spread of the new fast-spreading COVID-19 variant—with Wales, Northern Ireland and most of Scotland also in lockdown (although these countries are governed by separate rules).