Lovewell’s logic: Building the foundation for a truly modern work environment

Changing workforce demographics and employers’ interest in adapting benefits strategies and working patterns accordingly to meet employees’ expectations and needs in the modern workplace is a topic we often address at Employee Benefits. Yet, despite many organisations’ aims to be seen as an employer of choice in order to recruit and retain the talent their business needs, fewer than may be expected can truly be perceived to have adapted their working culture and practices to suit all employee demographics.

However, many workplaces could be set to move firmly into the modern world thanks to a Supreme Court pensions ruling and recommendations of an independent report into modern employment models earlier this week.

In the case of Walker versus Innospec, the Supreme Court ruled that an employee’s spousal pension benefit can be paid to his same-sex partner. In a six-year long case, John Walker, who worked for global chemical organisation Innospec between 1980 and 2003, sought to clarify whether his same-sex partner would receive a spouse’s pension in the event of his death.

Innospec refused on the grounds that Walker’s service pre-dated 5 December 2005, when the Civil Partnership Act 2014 came into effect. Following a number of appeals, this week the Supreme Court unanimously allowed Walker’s latest appeal, stating that his husband is entitled to a spouse’s pension in the event of Walker’s death, provided that they remain married.

Although the ruling could result in an additional cost burden for employers that do not currently make provision for a spouse’s pension to be paid to same-sex, as well as opposite-sex, partners, there are surely few who could disagree that the move is long overdue in terms of creating both workforce and societal equality.

This week also saw the publication of the Taylor review into modern working practices. The review, which was commissioned by prime minister Theresa May in October 2016, analysed the implications of new forms of work, including the rise of the gig economy; explored employment rights and responsibilities; and worked to identify whether the regulatory framework surrounding employment remained suitable in the context of modern working practices.

The review made a number of recommendations, including the proposal for a dependent contractor status, and a call for greater transparency around employment law framework to help ensure that rights and responsibilities embedded into legislation are not exploited or misunderstood. This would include introducing a statutory requirement for employers to provide employees and dependent contractors with a written statement, setting out the particulars of the job such as pay, working hours, and employment rights on the first day of the job.

Recommendations were also put forward around issues such as holiday pay, paid annual leave and the development of legislation to give agency workers and those on zero-hours contracts the right to request to formalise the reality of their working relationship.

As more organisations shift business models in order to better cater to customer needs and demands, competition for staff will surely hot up as individuals look for an employer that offers the flexibility they require. Employers that are perceived to care for their staff, therefore, will reap the rewards in the long-term, particularly if operating in the growing gig economy.

Although the Taylor review and Supreme Court pensions ruling are two very separate issues, quite possibly each deserving of a blog in their own right, their implications in terms of moving many workplaces forward should not be underestimated.

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Tweet: @DebbieLovewell