Maternity Rights and Agency Worker Laws Top Global HR Trends

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Changes in maternity rights, agency work, data protection, executive compensation and immigration laws were the main trends seen in employment law globally in 2011, according to the Global Employment Institute (GEI) of the International Bar Association. GEI asked lawyers from 40 countries to respond to 20 questions about the most relevant changes in laws involving employment, discrimination, immigration and industrial relations in their countries during 2011.

Major Trends

Changes in maternity, paternity and dependents rights. The overwhelming number of countries—34 out of 40—reported changes in these laws. GEI identified two distinct trends: increasing enhancement of maternity rights through extending the period of maternity leave, and expanding protection against termination of employment based on pregnancy or motherhood.

Changes in the use of agency workers. A great number of countries enacted laws increasing the protection of agency workers. Some countries expressly provided that the same employment conditions applied to agency workers as to employees directly hired by the employer; other countries provided that agency workers would become permanent workers or that employers have to inform agency workers of any employment vacancies.

Changes in the regulation of executive compensation. A significant number of countries enacted reforms on executive compensation, with the general trend involving regulatory provisions limiting salary and remuneration.

Changes related to privacy, data protection and use of social media. A large majority of the lawyers surveyed identified new or expected privacy or data protection laws in their countries that would introduce further complexity in and require a higher level of compliance with the regulation of the processing of employee information by employers. A number of countries noted a growing trend in employment issues related to the use of social media by employees.

Changes in immigration laws. GEI noted that some countries became tougher on immigration while others treated immigration in a “softer” way, and it identified a clear dichotomy between tough and soft treatment for categories of employees. For example, some countries had made immigration rules applicable to high-skilled employees more flexible than those applicable to low-skilled employees.

Additional Trends

Changes in flexible working practices, such as remote working. Although 24 of the surveyed countries reported no significant developments, a trend in the regulation of existing practices was noted. There was an increase in the regulation of part-time contracts and fixed-term contracts, which were focused on limiting their extensive use. In four countries—Mexico, Poland, Spain, and Russia—legislation on teleworking and remote working was introduced.

Changes with regards to termination of employment. A few countries enacted rules giving greater protections from dismissal to employees with longer service. A trend was to balance the interests of business with employees’ rights, with the overall direction of laws moving toward increasing severance payments rather than stopping employers from effecting dismissals. Some countries—such as Spain and the Netherlands—amended laws to protect employers in financial crisis by making the termination process easier and less expensive for the employer, but others—such as Switzerland and Italy—increased the cost for the employer.

Changes regarding workplace discrimination. With a focus on sex and gender discrimination, regulations in 2011 addressed eliminating the wage gap or ensuring a higher representation of women on boards of directors.

Changes to retirement laws. Many countries extended the age of retirement and other countries that did not previously impose a retirement age by law did so.

GEI’s report, National Regulatory Trends on Human Resources Law (July 2012) is available at:

http://www.ibanet.org/LPD/Human_Resources_Section/Global_Employment_Institute/Global_Employment_Institute_Home.aspx.

Susan R. Heylman, Esq., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C., area.