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The employment law year in review: what else happened?

United Kingdom
Written by
Lewis Silkin, widely recognised as the UK’s leading specialist employment law practice.
This series of articles looks back thematically at the employment law year, incorporating contributions from Ius Laboris member firms across the alliance. This part covers developments that were not covered in other parts of the series. 

Major employment law reforms were introduced in the  Netherlands  on 1 January 2020 under the new Balanced Labour Market Act (WAB). Along with other reforms mentioned elsewhere, employers will have a new acceptable ground for dismissal (called the ‘i-ground’), based on a combination of the other grounds, but employees will gain the right to ‘transition payments’ on dismissal from day one (rather than after two years). The calculation of the transition payment will also change. From being calculated on the basis of one- sixth of monthly salary for each half year, it will instead become one third of monthly salary for a full year. The increase in the transition payment, currently payable when employees have more than ten years of service, will also be abolished.

The  Dubai International Financial Centre also introduced major reforms in August 2019. Alongside the new family rights and discrimination laws mentioned above, it has opened up scope for secondments, provided (for the first time) for the possibility of settlement agreements, and changed its rules on sick pay and termination payments (for example it now requires end-of-service gratuities to be paid even where the termination is for cause, and it has introduced new rules on calculating end-of-service). It is now considering scrapping end of service gratuities altogether, in favour of a new defined contribution scheme.

Hong Kong introduced significant tax relief for pension (MPF) contributions in 2019 in a bid to encourage more saving for retirement. It is also proposing to abolish the MPF offsetting arrangement. The current rules allow employers to credit MPF contributions against any statutory long service or severance payment payable to a departing employee. To ease the impact on employers of abolishing the offsetting arrangement, the government plans to subsidise some of the cost of meeting long service or severance payments.

Brazil has clarified and reformed its laws on the hiring and termination of temporary workers and has recently proposed various other changes to employment law, including the introduction of a new type of employment contract intended to encourage the recruitment of young workers into their first job.

In May 2020, elections for Works Councils and Health & Safety Committees will take place in thousands of companies in Belgium. The work and care needed to organise these elections should not be underestimated. Strict procedures need to be followed, and companies need to try to avoid dismissing anyone on the list of candidates (who have enhanced dismissal protection of up to 8 years of salary).

Finally, the decriminalisation of cannabis continues to be a significant issue for employers in North America. 

Cannabis is still illegal at a federal level within the US, but many US states have legalised its usage. In 2019, New Mexico and New Jersey joined the growing list of US states where employers are prohibited from taking any adverse action against employees who use cannabis for legitimate medical reasons. Some US states (including Illinois and Delaware) are now regulating the extent to which employers can conduct pre-employment drug testing, and New York will join that list with effect from May 2020 .

Canada followed various states in the US in allowing the commercial sale of cannabis-based products in 2019. This has brought new challenges for Canadian employers, who need to decide what policies and processes to implement including on issues such as drug testing, how to accommodate medical cannabis users, how to deal with impairment in the workplace, and even whether to provide cannabis as an employee benefit.


Colin Leckey
Partner - United Kingdom
Lewis Silkin