Ethical Veganism is a Protected Characteristic

An employment tribunal in the UK has held that ethical veganism is a protected characteristic under UK discrimination law.

In the UK an employee is protected from discrimination in the workplace under one of the nine protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010.  This includes protection in respect of religion, religious belief and philosophical belief.

The case involves an employee at the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). He raised concerns that the organisations pension fund invested in some companies that tested products on animals or otherwise infringed the central tenets of his ethical veganism.  The disclosure was made first to his manager and then to his colleagues.  The employee was summarily dismissed on the grounds that his communications to colleagues derogated from an instruction from management.   He claimed that he was dismissed as a result of his belief in ethical veganism.  LACS state that he was dismissed for gross misconduct.

The preliminary hearing was held to consider whether ethical veganism constitutes a philosophical belief. Case law has given guidance on the definition of philosophical belief and requires that:

  • The belief must be genuinely held.
  • It must be a belief not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others

The case which set out these principles determined that a belief in climate change was potentially capable of amounting to a philosophical belief. More difficulty arises concerning “lifestyle” choices. An employment tribunal has recently held that vegetarianism did not qualify for protection under the Equality Act 2010 as the belief did not concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and had not attained a certain level of cogency and importance. However, the view has often been considered that ethical veganism, which extends to all aspects of the individuals life, may fall to be protected.

In this case the employment tribunal held that the claimant’s belief in ethical veganism is protected. This did amount to a belief that had a weighty and substantial aspect of human life in that ethical vegans seek to exclude all forms of animal exploitation including not wearing clothes made of leather or wool and not using products tested on animals. The judge also held that ethical veganism was important and worthy of respect in a democratic society.

The ruling from the employment tribunal does not amount to binding legal precedent. However, employers will have to consider the actions that they take and ensure that they do not discriminate against employees for their beliefs. This may mean for example considering the uniforms that staff are asked to wear or whether they can be required to handle meat if they work in a supermarket. The decision does refer to ethical vegans for whom veganism normally affects every aspect of their lives and therefore those who simply follow a vegan diet or refrain from eating certain products as a lifestyle choice may not be protected.

The employment tribunal will now consider the reason for the employees dismissal and whether he was treated less favourably due to his belief.

New Dutch employment act WAB: are you ready?

New Dutch employment act WAB: are you ready?

On 1 January 2020, the employment act the WAB came into effect. There are certain areas that require action by you as an employer, particularly if you engage flexible workers in your organisation.

We have created a WAB Checklist which includes an overview of the most important changes and actions you should take.

Below is an overview of the highlights of the WAB Checklist. For the full update and more information please click on this link.

Increased social security premiums for fixed-term employment contracts.
From 1 January 2020, employers have to pay a higher Unemployment Act (WW) premium of 7.94% for all employees without a written employment contract for an indefinite period. The high premium also applies to on-call agreements for an indefinite period that do not include a pre-agreed fixed (monthly or annual) working time (vaste arbeidsomvang).

  • Check whether you have a written employment contract (signed by both parties) for an indefinite period of time in your files. If not, make sure that you sign an addendum or draw up a written employment agreement, otherwise the higher premium will apply.
  • Modify your payslips: from 1 January 2020, payslips must state whether the employee has an indefinite or fixed term employment contract.

Changes for on-call workers
From 1 January 2020, employers are required to provide on-call employees with a minimum notification period of four days before the employee is required to commence the work. This period can be shortened to a minimum of 24 hours by a collective labour agreement.

After 12 months the employer must offer the on-call worker guaranteed fixed hours.

  • Check the duration of your on-call contracts. If the duration of an on-call contract was was for more than 12 months on 1 January 2020 an offer for a fixed number of hours must be made no later than 31 January 2020. The number of hours must be based on the average number of hours worked per month between 1 January 2019 and 31 December 2019.

Payroll employees
Individuals appointed under a payroll agreement now fall under the payroll legislative regime with effect from 1 January 2020 and no longer fall under the rules of the temporary agency contract (uitzendovereenkomst). Certain provisions can therefore no longer be invoked. From 1 January 2020, payroll employees are entitled to at least the same employment conditions as employees directly employed by the company that hires them.

Also, the normal rules on the maximum number and total period of fixed-term employment contracts (the so-called “ketenregeling”) now also apply to payroll agreements.

  • Check whether your payroll agreements contain an agency clause (uitzendbeding) or an (extended) exclusion from the obligation to continue to pay wages. These provisions can no longer be invoked.
  • Inform the payroll agency about your terms and conditions of employment.
  • Check whether you have concluded multiple payroll agreements regarding the same employee. If the payroll agreement is entered into before 1 January 2020, the old rules will continue to apply. This means that if a fourth payroll agreement is in place that ends in 2020, or if an agreement has been entered into before 2020 for more than 24 months, the agreement is automatically converted into an agreement for an indefinite period.

Transition payment due from the first working day
From 1 January 2020, employees who are dismissed are entitled to a transition payment (statutory severance) from the first day of their employment contract (instead of after two years). The new rules apply to terminations after 1 January 2020.

Further, the higher accrual for employees who have been employed for more than 10 years and who are older than 50 years no longer applies from 1 January 2020.

Amendment of the “ketenregeling”
Consecutive fixed term employment agreements automatically convert into an agreement for an indefinite period of time if the aggregate term exceeds 36 (instead of the previous term of 24) months, or if it is the fourth fixed term employment agreement.

  • Check (i) the expiry date of the temporary contracts, (ii) the number of contracts concluded with the employee and (iii) the total duration of the contracts.
  • No transitional arrangements apply (except for payroll agreements – see above) and the broader rules apply immediately from 1 January 2020. For example: did you reach the maximum total period of 24 months on 1 January 2020? You can now enter into a new fixed-term agreement for maximum 12 months.

“i-ground” as new ground for dismissal
The WAB introduces an additional ground for dismissal which allows employers to combine two or more grounds for dismissal. The following dismissal grounds can be combined: (i) the regular inability to perform work, (ii) non-performance, (iii) culpable acts of the employee, (iv) damaged working relationship and/or (v) other grounds (the so-called “h-ground”).

The court can grant, in addition to the transition allowance, a severance up to half of the transition allowance in case of an i-ground dismissal.

  • In cases where one ground for dismissal cannot be fully substantiated, termination of the employment contract may nevertheless be possible after 1 January 2020.

Upcoming Employment Law Changes in 2020

As we start the new year with a new Government in the UK, we consider the important employment law changes that will, or may, come into effect in 2020.

New right to a written statement of terms

Currently, employees who have been continuously employed for more than one month must be provided with a written statement of terms within two months of employment commencing. From 6 April 2020, this right is being extended to include workers as well as employees. In addition, the right to the written statement will be a day one right, meaning that workers will be entitled to the statement from the first day of employment or engagement. Legislation also requires additional information to be included as part of the extended right.

Amendments to agency workers rules

Another change which will come into effect on 6 April 2020 is a change to the agency workers rules. Under the Agency Worker Regulations 2010 (AWR 2010), agency workers are entitled to receive the same pay and basic working conditions as direct recruits once they have completed 12 weeks’ continuous service working in the same role. However, there is an exemption to this known as the  ‘Swedish derogation’ which permits agency workers who are employed under a permanent contract of employment with the temporary work agency and are paid by the agency for periods between assignments, to be exempt from the requirement for equal pay. From 6 April 2020, the Swedish derogation will be removed, meaning that all agency workers who have satisfied the 12-week qualifying period will be entitled to equal pay to those workers who are engaged directly by the employer.

Another provision which is contained in the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business (Amendment) Regulations 2019 is a provision that all agency work-seekers must be provided with a key facts statement setting out the terms under which they will undertake the work.

Holiday pay reference period

The calculation of holiday pay for workers with variable pay is changing on the 6 April 2020. Currently, in calculating the holiday pay for an employee with variable pay, the employer must look back over a 12 week reference period. From 6 April 2020, the Employment Rights (Employment Particulars and Paid Annual Leave) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 will increase the holiday pay reference period from 12 weeks to 52 weeks. Employers will be required to look back at the previous 52 weeks where a worker has worked and received pay, discarding any weeks not worked or where no pay was received, to calculate the average weekly pay. The Governments’ good work plan sets out that the changes will allow greater flexibility for those workers in choosing when to take holiday.

Changes to IR35 rules for the private sector

From April 2020, medium and large private sector businesses in the UK will become responsible for deciding the tax status of any contractor they engage via a personal service company (PSC), whether directly or indirectly. With that responsibility comes a potential liability to employment taxes (PAYE) and NICs. All businesses engaging contractors need to prepare for these changes. Under the current IR35 rules, it is the PSC that is responsible for determining the status of the individual and for operating PAYE and paying employer and employee NICs where there is deemed employment. The changes mean that the onus will shift from the PSC to the end user client to make a status determination.

These changes were included in the Finance Bill which was delayed due to the General Election. It is anticipated that the Bill will be enacted and that these changes will come into force in April 2020.

Reduction to threshold for a request to set up information and consultation arrangements

Currently the threshold required for a valid request to set up information and consultation arrangements under the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004 is 10% of employees. With effect from 6 April 2020 this threshold is being reduced from 10% to 2% with the minimum of 15 employees remaining.

Change to tax treatment of termination payments

The change will mean that employers will be liable to pay Class IA national insurance contributions on termination payments above £30,000 that are subject to income tax by the employee. This is set out in the National Insurance Contributions (Termination Awards and Sporting Testimonials) Act 2019.

New parental bereavement law

The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 is expected to come into force in April 2020. If it does come into force, bereaved parents will have the right to two weeks of leave following the loss of child under the age of 18, or a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy. The details of the new entitlement and those who will qualify will be set out in separate regulations. Bereaved parents will be entitled to take their leave in one two-week block or in two separate blocks of one week.

Bereaved parents employed with a minimum of 26 weeks’ continuous service will also be entitled to receive statutory parental bereavement pay. Those with less than 26 weeks’ continuous service will be entitled to take two weeks of unpaid leave.

Employment Bill

The Queen’s Speech on December 19 2019 included reference to an Employment Bill. This Bill will include many of the issues which the Government has previously proposed:  The introduction of a single enforcement body; extension of redundancy protection for pregnant employees and those returning to work after maternity leave; introduction of neonatal care leave for employees; one week’s leave for unpaid carers; and obligations on employers to allocate tips amongst employees.  The Bill will also contain provisions to protect workers’ rights with regard to EU employment rights.  It is not clear when the Bill will be introduced.

We will keep you updated on all the developments throughout the year.

Les Interprétations, politiques et guides fournissent des lignes directrices pratiques aux employeurs en lien avec les modifications du 1er septembre 2019 du Code canadien du travail

Le 1er septembre 2019, une série de nouvelles modifications apportées au Code canadien du travail (« Code ») sont entrées en vigueur et ont eu une incidence sur les heures de travail et repos, les heures supplémentaires, l’assouplissement des conditions d’emploi, les congés annuels bonifiés ainsi que les congés rémunérés et non rémunérés. Le Programme du travail du gouvernement fédéral a publié depuis de nombreuses Interprétations, politiques et guides (« IPG ») qui visent à fournir des lignes directrices sous forme de politiques en vue de promouvoir une interprétation cohérente de la législation et une mise en œuvre efficace des programmes à l’échelle du Canada. Pour en savoir plus sur les modifications du 1er septembre 2019, veuillez consulter les ressources suivantes de Norton Rose Fulbright Canada :

Pour en faciliter la compréhension, les IPG se rapportant aux modifications du 1er septembre 2019 sont les suivantes :

  • IPG 091 : Situation que l’employeur ne pouvait raisonnablement prévoir – Exceptions : Cette IPG vise à définir l’expression « situation que l’employeur ne pouvait raisonnablement prévoir » en ce qui a trait aux pauses (article 169.1), aux périodes de repos (article 169.2), aux préavis de l’horaire de travail (article 173.01), aux modifications à des quarts de travail (article 173.1) et au droit limité de refuser d’effectuer des heures supplémentaires pour s’acquitter d’obligations familiales (article 174.1).
  • IPG 092 : Menace imminente ou sérieuse – Exceptions : Cette IPG vise à définir l’expression « menace imminente ou sérieuse » en ce qui a trait aux pauses (article 169.1), aux périodes de repos entre les quarts ou périodes de travail (article 169.2), aux préavis de l’horaire de travail (article 173.01), aux modifications à des quarts de travail (article 173.1) et au droit limité de refuser d’effectuer des heures supplémentaires pour s’acquitter d’obligations familiales (article 174.1).
  • IPG 093 : Menace de dommages à des biens ou de perte de biens – Exceptions : Cette IPG vise à définir l’expression « menace de dommages à des biens ou de perte de biens » en ce qui a trait aux pauses (article 169.1), aux périodes de repos entre les quarts ou périodes de travail (article 169.2), aux préavis de l’horaire de travail (article 173.01), aux modifications à des quarts de travail (article 173.1) et au droit limité de refuser d’effectuer des heures supplémentaires pour s’acquitter d’obligations familiales (article 174.1).
  • IPG 094 : Atteinte grave au fonctionnement de l’établissement – Exceptions : Cette IPG vise à définir l’expression « atteinte grave au fonctionnement de l’établissement » en ce qui a trait aux pauses (article 169.1), aux périodes de repos entre les quarts ou périodes de travail (article 169.2), aux préavis de l’horaire de travail (article 173.01), aux modifications à des quarts de travail (article 173.1) et au droit limité de refuser d’effectuer des heures supplémentaires pour s’acquitter d’obligations familiales (article 174.1).
  • IPG 095 : Moyens raisonnables : Cette IPG vise à définir l’expression « moyens raisonnables » en ce qui a trait au droit limité de refuser d’effectuer des heures supplémentaires pour s’acquitter d’obligations familiales (article 174.1).
  • IPG 096 : Responsabilités familiales : Cette IPG vise à définir l’expression « responsabilités familiales » en ce qui a trait au droit limité de refuser d’effectuer des heures supplémentaires pour s’acquitter d’obligations familiales (article 174.1) et aux congés personnels (article 206.6).
  • IPG 097 : Membre de la famille : Cette IPG vise à définir l’expression « membre de la famille » en ce qui a trait au droit limité de refuser d’effectuer des heures supplémentaires pour s’acquitter d’obligations familiales (article 174.1) et aux congés personnels (article 206.6).
  • IPG 098 : Possible dans la pratique : Cette IPG vise à définir l’expression « possible dans la pratique » en ce qui a trait aux congés personnels (article 206.6), aux congés pour les victimes de violence familiale (article 206.7) et aux congés pour pratiques autochtones traditionnelles (article 206.8).
  • IPG 099 : Cumul (« Stacking ») de congés : Cette IPG aborde la portée de la mise en œuvre des nouvelles dispositions en matière de congés personnels prévues à l’article 206.6 du Code lorsque la convention collective ou le contrat de travail de l’employé lui accorde des jours de congé personnel (rémunérés ou non) pour une ou plusieurs des raisons énumérées au paragraphe 206.6(1).
  • IPG 100 : Pause de 30 minutes : Cette IPG vise à interpréter la portée de l’article 169.1 du Code et à clarifier l’expression « pause d’au moins 30 minutes durant chaque période de 5 heures de travail consécutives » s’y rattachant.
  • IPG 101 : Champ d’application : Cette IPG définit le champ d’application de certaines catégories d’employés en ce qui a trait aux pauses (article 169.1), aux périodes de repos (article 169.2), aux préavis de l’horaire de travail (article 173.01) et aux modifications à des quarts de travail (article 173.1). Pour en savoir plus sur cette IPG, veuillez lire notre actualité juridique intitulée Un répit intérimaire pour les employeurs? Des exemptions de l’application de certaines nouvelles dispositions du Code canadien du travail sont publiées sous forme de politique.

Comme il a été mentionné précédemment, les IPG abordées dans les présentes ont l’objectif de servir d’outils sous forme de politiques pour fournir des lignes directrices pratiques. Toutefois, elles ne lient pas forcément les preneurs de décisions administratives, judiciaires, quasi judiciaires et arbitrales en droit. En effet, par le passé, les décideurs ont choisi d’appliquer, ou de ne pas appliquer, d’autres IPG publiées en vertu du Code en fonction de ce qui est raisonnable dans les circonstances de l’affaire en cause[1]. Reste à voir de quelle façon les IPG abordées dans les présentes seront appliquées par les décideurs au Canada. Entre-temps, il serait sage pour les employeurs de respecter ces IPG, tout en étant conscients que l’application de celles-ci en droit pourrait ne pas toujours être déterminante, mais plutôt tributaire de ce qui est raisonnable en toutes circonstances.

L’auteur souhaite souligner la contribution de Catherine Cliff, stagiaire à Ottawa, à la réalisation de ce billet.

[1] Voir à titre d’exemple, RWB Ranch Ltd. and Love, Re, 2013  CarswellNat 2160 au para 23, [2013] CLAD No 156 (disponible en anglais seulement).

Interpretations, Policies and Guidelines offer practical guidance to employers on the September 1, 2019 amendments under Canada Labour Code

On September 1, 2019, a series of new amendments under the Canada Labour Code (“Code”) came into force, affecting hours of work and rest, overtime, flexible work arrangements, enhanced vacation entitlements, paid leaves and unpaid leaves. The federal government’s Labour Program has since published a number of Interpretations, Policies and Guidelines (“IPGs”), whose aim is to provide policy-based guidance to promote the consistent interpretation of legislation and effective delivery of programs across Canada. For more information on the September 1, 2019 amendments themselves, please consult the following Norton Rose Fulbright Canada resources:

For ease of reference, the IPGs that relate to the September 1, 2019 amendments are as follows:

  • IPG 091: Situation that the employer could not have reasonably foreseen – Exceptions: This IPG defines the meaning of a “situation that the employer could not have reasonably foreseen” for the purposes of breaks (section 169.1), rest periods (section 169.2), notice of schedule (section 173.01), work shift changes (section 173.1), and the limited right to refuse overtime to carry out family responsibilities (section 174.1).
  • IPG 092: Imminent or serious threat – Exceptions: This IPG defines the meaning of an “imminent or serious threat” for the purposes of breaks (section 169.1), rest periods between work periods or shifts (section 169.2), notice of schedule (section 173.01), notice of work shift changes (section 173.1), and the limited right to refuse overtime to carry out family responsibilities (section 174.1).
  • IPG 093: Threat of damage to or loss of property – Exceptions: This IPG defines the meaning of a “threat of damage to or loss of property” for the purposes of breaks (section 169.1), rest periods between work periods or shifts (section 169.2), notice of schedule (section 173.01), notice of work shift changes (section 173.1), and the limited right to refuse overtime to carry out family responsibilities (section 174.1).
  • IPG 094: Serious interference with the operation of the establishment – Exceptions: This IPG defines the meaning of a “serious interference with the operation of the establishment” for the purposes of breaks (section 169.1), rest periods between work periods or shifts (section 169.2), notice of schedule (section 173.01), notice of work shift changes (section 173.1), and limited right to refuse overtime to carry out family responsibilities (section 174.1).
  • IPG 095: Reasonable steps: This IPG defines the meaning of “reasonable steps” for the purposes of the limited right to refuse overtime to carry out family responsibilities (section 174.1).
  • IPG 096: Family responsibilities: This IPG defines the meaning of “family responsibilities” for the purposes of the limited right to refuse overtime to carry out family responsibilities (section 174.1), and for personal leave (section 206.6).
  • IPG 097: Family member: This IPG defines the meaning of “family member” for the purposes of the limited right to refuse overtime to carry out family responsibilities (section 174.1), and for personal leave (section 206.6).
  • IPG 098: Reasonably practicable: This IPG defines the meaning of “reasonable practicable” for the purposes of personal leave (section 206.6), leave for victims of family violence (section 206.7), and leave for traditional Aboriginal practices (section 206.8).
  • IPG 099: Stacking: This IPG discusses how the new personal leave provisions under section 206.6 of the Code apply in relation to employees whose contract or collective agreement provides for personal leave days (with or without pay) for one or more of the reasons listed in subsection 206.6(1).
  • IPG 100: 30-minute breaks: This IPG discusses and clarifies the meaning and scope of a “break of at least 30 minutes during every period of 5 consecutive hours of work” under section 169.1 of the Code.
  • IPG 101: Scope of application: This IPG defines the scope of application to certain classes of employees for the purposes of breaks (section 169.1), rest periods (section 169.2), notice of hours of work (section 173.01), and notice of shift changes (section 173.1). For more information on this IPG, please read our legal update, An interim break for employers? Policy-based exemptions from certain new provisions under the Canada Labour Code published.

As mentioned previously, the above-noted IPGs are intended to serve as policy-based tools for practical guidance. However, they do not necessarily bind administrative, judicial, quasi-judicial, and arbitral decision-makers in law. Indeed, in the past, decision-makers have chosen to apply, or not apply, other IPGs published under the Code based on what is reasonable in the circumstances of the case.[1] It remains to be seen how the IPGs discussed above will be applied by decision-makers in Canada. In the meantime, employers would be wise to observe these IPGs, while keeping in mind that their application in law may not always be determinative, and will be based on what is reasonable in all the circumstances.

The author would like to thank Catherine Cliff, articling student in Ottawa, for her contribution to this piece.

[1] See for instance, RWB Ranch Ltd. and Love, Re, 2013 CarswellNat 2160 at para 23, [2013] CLAD No 156.

Hausse du salaire minimum au Québec

À compter du 1er mai 2020, le salaire minimum au Québec sera haussé de 0,60 $ l’heure, pour atteindre 13,10 $ l’heure, soit une augmentation de 4,8 % par rapport au salaire minimum en vigueur (12,50 $ l’heure)[i]. Le Québec emboîte ainsi le pas à l’Alberta, à l’Ontario et à la Colombie-Britannique en haussant le salaire minimum au-dessus de la barre de 13 $ l’heure. Cette hausse touchera 409 100 travailleurs au Québec. Alors que certains y voient une augmentation du pouvoir d’achat des travailleurs à faible revenu, d’autres y voient un effort insuffisant de la part du gouvernement afin de réduire l’inégalité des revenus et l’incidence de la pauvreté.

Une augmentation en ligne avec la progression du salaire minimum au Canada

Une augmentation de 0,60 $ l’heure n’est pas sans précédent au Québec. Le 1er mai 2018, le salaire minimum a augmenté de 0,75 $ pour atteindre 12 $ l’heure. Il s’agissait de l’augmentation, en dollars, la plus importante enregistrée dans la province[ii].

Le salaire minimum proposé de 13,10 $ l’heure se situera au-dessus de la moyenne du salaire minimum canadien de 12,23 $ l’heure au 1er janvier 2019[iii]. Il faut toutefois noter qu’au courant des dernières années, plusieurs provinces et territoires ont augmenté de manière significative leurs salaires minimums. Celui de l’Ontario est passé à 14 $ l’heure en janvier 2018, tandis que celui de l’Alberta a augmenté à 15 $ l’heure en octobre 2018. Le salaire minimum de la Colombie-Britannique est passé à 13,85 $ l’heure en juin 2019 et augmentera progressivement jusqu’à atteindre 15,20 $ l’heure en juin 2021. Le salaire minimum en vigueur dans les Territoires du Nord-Ouest est de 13,46 $ l’heure, alors que celui du Nunavut est de 13 $ l’heure depuis avril 2016[iv].

Vers un salaire minimum à 15 $ l’heure pour les employés d’entreprises privées sous compétence fédérale

Cette augmentation du salaire minimum au Québec a été annoncée alors que le premier ministre du Canada a récemment donné le mandat à la ministre du Travail, Filomena Tassi, d’augmenter le salaire minimum fédéral à au moins 15 $ l’heure[v]. Depuis 1996, le salaire minimum fédéral prévu à l’article 178 du Code canadien du travail est fixé au taux de salaire minimum de la province ou du territoire où l’employé exerce habituellement ses fonctions. Cette augmentation toucherait près de 42 000 travailleurs sur les 915 000 occupant un poste dans des secteurs d’activité comme les télécommunications, la radiodiffusion, les banques ainsi que le transport interprovincial et international.

Le Comité d’experts sur les normes du travail fédérales modernes a ainsi proposé au gouvernement fédéral deux options afin d’établir un salaire minimum fédéral : uniformiser le salaire minimum d’une province à l’autre ou créer un salaire variable dans chaque province[vi]. Peu importe l’option que choisira la ministre, elle fera certainement l’objet d’un vif débat.

Enjeux associés à la hausse du salaire minimum

S’il est vrai qu’une hausse du salaire minimum peut augmenter le pouvoir d’achat des salariés, elle peut également avoir des retombées importantes sur la compétitivité des entreprises, sur le prix de certains biens et services, sur les déplacements d’emploi d’une province ou d’un territoire à l’autre ainsi que sur le rehaussement des critères d’embauche, et, conséquemment, sur les débouchés offerts aux travailleurs les moins qualifiés.

Nous invitons les employeurs à se préparer dès maintenant à l’augmentation du salaire minimum qui, nous le rappelons, entrera en vigueur le 1er mai 2020 au Québec, et à ne pas sous-estimer l’impact que peut avoir pareille augmentation, notamment sur leurs relations du travail.

[i] Règlement modifiant le Règlement sur les normes du travail, Loi sur les normes du travail (chapitre N-1.1, a. 40, 1er al., a. 89, par. 1° et a. 91, 1er al.).

[ii] Rapport annuel 2018-2019, Ministère du travail, de l’emploi et de la solidarité sociale, en ligne : <https://cdn-contenu.quebec.ca/cdn-contenu/adm/min/travail-emploi-solidarite-sociale/publications-adm/rapport/RAG_MTESS_2018-2019.pdf?1569520892>, consulté le 27 décembre 2019, à la p. 30.

[iii] Le salaire minimum : Document de discussion, Emploi et Développement social Canada, en ligne : <https://www.canada.ca/fr/emploi-developpement-social/services/normes-travail/rapports/salaire-minimum-federal.html>, consulté le 27 décembre 2019.

[iv] Taux horaires minimums au Canada pour les travailleurs adultes, Gouvernement du Canada, en ligne : <http://srv116.services.gc.ca/dimt-wid/sm-mw/rpt2.aspx?GoCTemplateCulture=fr-CA>, consulté le 27 décembre 2019.

[v] Lettre de mandat de la ministre du Travail, Cabinet du Premier ministre, en ligne : <https://pm.gc.ca/fr/lettres-de-mandat/lettre-de-mandat-de-la-ministre-du-travail>, consulté le 27 décembre 2019.

[vi] Rapport du Comité d’experts sur les normes du travail fédérales modernes : juin 2019, en ligne : <https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/canada/employment-social-development/services/labour-standards/reports/comite-experts-finale/comite-experts-rapport-finale-20190826.pdf>, consulté le 27 décembre 2019.

De nouvelles obligations pour les plateformes de mise en relation

Les plateformes de mise en relation (comme Uber ou Deliveroo), qui sont de plus en plus utilisées en France, font pourtant l’objet de nombreuses critiques, principalement fondées sur les conditions de travail des travailleurs indépendants qu’elles utilisent dans le cadre de leur activité.

Le Gouvernement français s’est donné pour mission d’encadrer l’activité de ces plateformes, en particulier en ce qui concerne leur responsabilité vis-à-vis de ces travailleurs indépendants.

La loi Travail du 8 août 2016 a créé, au sein du Code du travail, une partie dédiée aux travailleurs utilisant ces plateformes, et a mis à la charge des plateformes une responsabilité sociale à l’égard des travailleurs indépendants recourant à leurs services, comprenant notamment la prise en charge, par la plateforme, de la cotisation des travailleurs à une assurance couvrant le risque d’accidents du travail et le versement d’une contribution-formation professionnelle (sous réserve que certains seuils soient remplis), ainsi que la reconnaissance aux travailleurs d’un accès à la formation professionnelle, d’un droit syndical et d’un droit de grève.

 

1. De nouvelles obligations pour les plateformes, et des droits nouveaux pour les travailleurs indépendants

 

La loi 2019-1428 du 24 décembre 2019, d’orientation des mobilités, vient compléter ce dispositif, en mettant à la charge des plateformes plusieurs obligations.

En premier lieu, la loi met à la charge de l’ensemble des plateformes de mise en relation une obligation d’abondement du compte personnel de formation des travailleurs indépendants qu’elle utilise, lorsque certains seuils d’utilisation du travailleur indépendant sont remplis.

Par ailleurs, les plateformes dont l’activité repose sur la conduite d’une voiture de transport avec chauffeur (type plateforme VTC), ou la livraison de marchandises au moyen d’un véhicule à 2 ou 3 roues (type Deliveroo ou Uber Eats) se voient appliquer des obligations complémentaires.

Ainsi, certaines règles nouvelles s’appliquent à elles, dans le cadre de leurs relations avec les travailleurs indépendants, ou de la transparence autour de cette utilisation :

  • Elles doivent désormais communiquer aux travailleurs, lorsqu’elles leur proposent une prestation, la distance couverte par cette prestation et le prix minimal garanti dont ils bénéficieront, déduction faite des frais de commission ;
  • Les plateformes seront tenues de publier sur leur site internet, de manière loyale, claire et transparente, des indicateurs relatifs à la durée d’activité et au revenu d’activité au titre des activités des travailleurs en lien avec la plateforme, au cours de l’année civile précédente ;
  • Les travailleurs indépendants se voient garantir un véritable droit au refus d’une proposition de prestation. Les plateformes ne pourront sanctionner un tel refus, notamment par la rupture des relations contractuelles avec les travailleurs concernés ;
  • Enfin, les travailleurs indépendants bénéficient d’un droit à la déconnexion, qui prend la forme la liberté de choisir leurs plages horaires d’activité et leurs périodes d’inactivité et la possibilité de se déconnecter durant leurs plages horaires d’activité. Les plateformes ne peuvent sanctionner les travailleurs indépendants par la rupture des relations contractuelles lorsque ces derniers exerceront ce droit.

 

2. La possibilité pour les plateformes de mettre en place une charte de responsabilité sociale

 

La loi prévoit la possibilité pour la plateforme d’établir une charte de responsabilité sociale, déterminant les conditions et modalités d’exercice de sa responsabilité sociale, définissant ses droits et obligations ainsi que ceux des travailleurs avec lesquels elle est en relation.

Si elle est établie, la charte doit préciser notamment :

  • les conditions d’exercice de l’activité professionnelle des travailleurs, en particulier les règles selon lesquelles ils sont mis en relation avec les utilisateurs, ainsi que les règles qui peuvent être mises en œuvre pour réguler le nombre de connexions simultanées de travailleurs afin de répondre, le cas échéant, à une faible demande de prestations par les utilisateurs. Ces règles garantissent le caractère non exclusif de la relation entre les travailleurs et la plateforme et la liberté pour les travailleurs d’avoir recours à celle-ci et de se connecter ou se déconnecter, sans que soient imposées des plages horaires d’activité ;
  • les modalités permettant aux travailleurs d’obtenir un prix décent pour leur prestation de services ;
  • les modalités de développement des compétences professionnelles et de sécurisation des parcours professionnels ;
  • les mesures visant à améliorer les conditions de travail et à prévenir les risques professionnels auxquels les travailleurs peuvent être exposés en raison de leur activité ainsi que les dommages causés à des tiers ;
  • les modalités de partage d’informations et de dialogue entre la plateforme et les travailleurs sur les conditions d’exercice de leur activité professionnelle ;
  • les modalités selon lesquelles les travailleurs sont informés de tout changement relatif aux conditions d’exercice de leur activité professionnelle ;
  • la qualité de service attendue, les modalités de contrôle par la plateforme de l’activité et de sa réalisation et les circonstances qui peuvent conduire à une rupture des relations commerciales entre la plateforme et le travailleur ainsi que les garanties dont le travailleur bénéficie dans ce cas ;
  • le cas échéant, les garanties de protection sociale complémentaire négociées par la plateforme dont les travailleurs peuvent bénéficier.

Les plateformes devront publier la charte ainsi établie sur leur site internet et annexer celles-ci aux contrats ou aux conditions générales d’utilisation qui les lient aux travailleurs.

Les plateformes pourront transmettre cette charte à l’autorité administrative, après consultation des travailleurs indépendants sur le projet de charte, en lui demandant de se prononcer sur la conformité de la charte aux dispositions légales.

A noter : dans le projet de loi figurait initialement un article selon lequel en cas d’homologation par l’autorité administrative du projet de charte, son établissement et le respect des engagements pris par la plateforme ne pouvaient pas caractériser l’existence d’un lien de subordination juridique entre la plateforme et les travailleurs. Cette disposition a été censurée par le Conseil constitutionnel.

Dès lors, la portée d’avoir, pour les plateformes, une charte homologuée est limitée : l’existence de la charte ne pourra, à elle seule, caractériser l’existence d’un lien de subordination, mais en cas de contentieux, le juge saisi pourra toujours requalifier la relation de travail en contrat de travail s’il relève des éléments propres à caractériser ce lien.

Les dispositions de la loi 2019-1428 du 24 décembre 2019 entrent en vigueur le 27 décembre 2019, soit le lendemain de la publication de la loi au Journal officiel. Leur application effective est toutefois subordonnée à la publication des décrets d’application, à venir dans les prochaines semaines / prochains mois.

Crowd workers do not qualify as employees

As the end of the year approaches, the German courts have published a decision providing employers with further clarity on the issue of crowd working.

What is crowd working?

Crowd working is a highly flexible form of working. According to the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), around 4.8 percent of the German electorate earn their money through “mini-jobs” or tasks sourced through the internet. These crowd workers take on work from companies that is offered to all, for example via apps or on general or specialised network platforms. These tasks generally have to be completed within a short timescale and in accordance with set criteria. The Regional Labour Court (LAG) in Munich has provided guidance on the triangular relationship between the crowdsourcer, the platform operator and the crowd worker (judgement of 04.12.2019, ref. 8 Sa 146/19).

Crowdworkers are not employees

The court held that crowd workers are not employees. An employment contract requires that a worker personally performs work in accordance with instructions. This is generally indicated by the fact that the employee has to follow instructions regarding the time, place and content of their work and is integrated into the employer’s workplace and organisation. In the present case, a crowd worker claimed the existence of an employment relationship with a platform operator, after the operator terminated his access to the app. His tasks, which he had accepted from the app, included taking photographs of petrol stations and markets and forwarding these pictures to the customer in order to allow it to monitor the presentation of its goods there.

The LAG denied the existence of an employment contract between the platform operator and the plaintiff crowd worker. The crowd worker had not been obliged to provide services or accept the tasks offered. His contract with the platform was merely a framework agreement that did not set any binding performance obligations or instruction requirements from the platform.

As a result, the individual is not protected by German employment protection regulations, notwithstanding that the plaintiff earned a substantial part of his living from these tasks and was therefore under financial pressure to accept future work.

Employers should be careful about terminating employment around the holidays

While it’s always important for employers to be professional when dismissing an employee, employers would be wise to exercise extra care if they have to let someone go during the holiday season.

Canadian courts have long cautioned employers to avoid being unduly insensitive in the way they dismiss employees. Courts don’t look kindly on terminations that are, as the Ontario Court of Appeal once described, “cold and brusque.”

If an employer’s conduct during a dismissal is unfair or unduly insensitive and leads to an employee’s mental suffering, that employer could be on the hook for paying the employee “aggravated” or “moral” damages.

Throughout the years, courts have signaled that employers should be careful about dismissing employees in and around significant events or moments (e.g., before a daughter’s wedding or around the time a parent dies). As such, if not carried out with appropriate care, a dismissal during the holiday season could be seen as unduly insensitive.

Just last year, in Horner v 897469 Ontario Inc. [1], the Ontario Superior Court awarded $20,000 in aggravated damages to an employee who was dismissed at Christmas time. In that case, days before the Christmas break, the employee had complained, to her employer, that a co-worker was harassing her at work. Then, on December 28th, the employee found a termination letter stuck in the back door of her house. The letter purported to dismiss the employee for cause. While the Court considered multiple factors in arriving at its decision, the decision paid particular attention to the fact that the termination letter was sent “during the Christmas holidays.”

In Zesta Engineering Ltd. v Cloutier [2], the Ontario Superior Court awarded an employee $75,000 in moral damages after the employee was dismissed during the holiday season. Importantly, in this case, the employer had engaged in a long list of bad-faith behaviors. However, in deciding to award moral damages to the employee for the manner in which he was dismissed, the Court made sure to point out that, among other things, the employee was let go only “five days before Christmas.”

Of course, courts will consider a number of factors when deciding whether or not to award damages to employees for the manner in which those employees have been dismissed. However, employers should be on notice that courts often consider the timing of a dismissal when assessing a claim for aggravated or moral damages. Therefore, if an employer has no choice but to dismiss an employee during the holidays, it would be in the employer’s best interest to do so with the utmost care and sensitivity.

[1] 2018 ONSC 121.

[2] 2010 ONSC 5810.

All I want for Christmas is… some UK pensions reforms?

OK, so even I am not that obsessed with pensions, love it though I may. I’m also a realist about how long it may still take. But there’s no denying that pensions have been largely ignored recently with all the hoo-ha in the UK over Brexit and the general election. The Pension Schemes Bill died when Parliament dissolved for the election, and even that failed to deal with many of the burning issues of the day. But we have a new Government now, so what is on my Christmas wish list?

Allow trustees to invest for good

Pension trustees are now required to reveal their investment policy on climate change and good governance, but their actual investment powers are really rather limited when it comes to investing for the greater good. That’s because of the Cowan v Scargill case, where Arthur Scargill of the National Union of Mineworkers wanted the coal industry pension scheme to avoid investing in competitor fuels and overseas businesses. The court told the trustees to focus on investing to yield the best financial return for beneficiaries. That was in 1984 and nothing much has changed since.

It makes it tricky to invest in businesses designed to have a positive impact on society, but it is clear that MPs expect pension funds to be part of the move to climate-friendly investment. So, a thought – is it time for the Government to empower trustees to explore impact investment?

Get rid of tax obstacles

You can’t solve everything in one go, but surely we can solve the tax challenges on GMP equalisation? Equalisation of pension benefits as between men and women for the effect of unequal statutory guaranteed minimum pensions will lead to small back-payments and a few tweaks to benefits. It really isn’t going to be life-changing for most people. At most it might also lead to some benefit structure changes using GMP conversion. The trouble is that the current tax regime can’t cope with any of it and HMRC is struggling to react. And yet back in the summer the-then Pensions Minister was telling trustees to get on with equalisation. They will, as soon as the Government takes GMP equalisation changes outside the current tax restrictions.

While they’re at it, I’d also like HMRC to stop penalising split pension transfers. Losing tax protections if AVCs are transferred in one direction with main scheme benefits being left behind will block the consolidation of pensions that the Government was promoting, and potentially disadvantage members.

Relax on chair’s statements

Transparency on costs in defined contribution schemes is healthy and should be encouraged. But that doesn’t mean that the Pensions Regulator should have to fine trustees over small details in the annual trustee chair’s statement. The current enforcement law isn’t risk-based and it is not actually helping members. So I’d like to see the Regulator being given more discretion in policing chair statements, to use a scarce resource more efficiently.

Sort out GMP conversion

Back to my favourite topic. We have laws in place to allow employers to change the structure of pension schemes to get rid of the out-dated and discriminatory requirements which still apply to a proportion of many individuals’ pre-1997 pension benefits. However even the Department for Work and Pensions concedes they don’t quite work as drafted and was planning to make some changes. Please can we have them now? They weren’t in the 2019 Pension Schemes Bill, but I am crossing my fingers for them to appear when and if the Bill re-emerges.

And yes, I have been good*.

* For a given value and according to parameters I have determined as appropriate to the situation.

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