After a year of unprecedented change, what does 2021 have in store for business owners? Christian Hunt outlines issues business owners need to be aware of.
After the rollercoaster of 2020, I’m sure many business owners are desperate for a period of stability. However, there are still many disruptive factors at play whether due to Brexit; Covid-19 or other factors, which business owners in all sectors across the region should be aware of.
Our new relationship with the EU post-Brexit means there will be fundamental differences in the way things operate.
Among the key areas to consider is data protection - where we can expect divergence between the UK and EU in certain areas. The first indication of this is that the UK will not be adopting the EU E-privacy rules and will look to introduce legislation in areas such direct marketing, resulting in data protection and privacy law becoming more of a national concern.
Whilst owners of existing EU trade mark registrations will have been automatically granted a cloned UK registration, moving forward, owners of EU registrations will need to pay renewal fees both in the UK and EU to maintain the levels of protection, they were afforded pre-Brexit Arbitration is also likely to be a more popular method for resolving commercial disputes as UK arbitration is not governed by EU law and is not affected by Brexit, while court disputes may result in issues around governing law and jurisdiction.
Covid-19 and commercial contracts
Many business owners will have renegotiated their commercial contracts due to Covid-19. You will also need to ensure that new contracts cover coronavirus and its impacts (lockdown, travel restrictions, supply chain issues, etc). It is likely that these contract negotiations will require detailed discussion.
Workforce disruptions and challenges
While business owners are grappling with the immediate and direct consequences of the coronavirus pandemic they are advised to think longer term too.
Immediately issues include the end of the furlough scheme, health and safety concerns for people returning to their places of work, the legal nuances of encouraging workers to get vaccinated and the wellbeing of workers who may have struggled during the pandemic.
Our employment lawyers are seeing an increase in workplace disputes and it is vital that employers tackle issues like redundancies and changes to working conditions carefully.
Longer term, business owners should be exploring the opportunities that come with adopting new technologies and more flexible business models.
New immigration rules
A major impact of Brexit is new immigration rules. If you employ any EEA staff who were resident in the UK before 31 December 2020, you must check that they have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, which they must do before 30 June 2021.
Any new EEA staff, who arrived after 1 January 2020, will be treated like any other overseas worker and will require a visa, under the new points based system. Increasingly we are seeing more employers applying for sponsor licenses, so they have greater scope to bring workers in to fill key roles.
Equality, diversity and inclusion
Although the equality framework has been around for decades, there is renewed focus on equality, diversity and inclusion that businesses owners should not ignore. This is being driven by movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, LGBTQ+ rights and wider concerns about wellbeing and mental health exacerbated by the pandemic.
Traditionally employers have focussed on trying to avoid liability rather than embracing the opportunities that equality can bring their organisation. Thankfully, that is starting to change, and as customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders and stakeholders demand more diversity, businesses will have to improve their performance in this area so that they don’t lose out.