This project recognises the international, national, and boutique practices providing cutting-edge advice, acting on the most complex mandates, co-ordinating large multi-jurisdictional teams, and continuing to grow and innovate.
During the research, we spoke to nearly 100 leading individuals at more than 50 firms across 30 jurisdictions. We also spoke with our in-house counsel subscribers who provided valuable feedback on the teams they turn to for day-to-day queries and in crisis moments – giving us a view from both sides of the market as to which practices are truly leading the way and holding their own amid a changing working world.
This approach also helped us gain valuable insight into the various trends impacting workplaces.
National and regional trends remain varied. From greater collective labour mobilisation in the US, to concerns over ageing workforces in Germany and Japan; significant legislative change in the EU, Australia, India, Singapore, and elsewhere; raging inflation in Argentina and Turkey; the Gulf States’ push to get local talent into roles traditionally taken up by foreign employees; and swathes of discrimination claims in the UK – which is also coming to terms with the true impact of Brexit.
A few trends, however, are more global in scope.
Covid still keeping lawyers busy
Be it ongoing covid-19 restrictions in Asia-Pacific, or how the pandemic was a catalyst for pushing forward the future of work, covid-related issues remain a key activity area for practitioners worldwide.
One of the most disruptive of these trends is remote working. How important is it for staff to be physically located where their bosses are in an internet-enabled world? What is the best way for employers to retain and incentivise staff in this space? What are the tax, health and safety, and other legal ramifications of working in a different jurisdiction to where the company is based?
Alongside this is a greater awareness of employee mental health and wellbeing. Exacerbated by the pandemic, employers have seen an uptick in reports of stress and burnout even during the “post-pandemic” period.
Greater self-awareness of wellbeing issues has led many employees to seek change, either through “quiet quitting”, or leaving the workforce entirely, creating a talent and skills gap that is difficult to fill.
In addition to providing support for struggling workers, employers are also having to ensure they enforce employees’ right to disconnect.
Employee classification headache
Across the globe, alternative hiring practices – be it subcontracting, using employers of record and professional employer organisations, or the gig economy – remain at the cutting edge of legal practice. As part of this, acting on precedent-setting lawsuits over employee classification is taking up a large chunk of many market-leading teams’ workloads.
Speak-up cultures bolstered by new whistleblowing laws
Experts are also noticing a shift in companies’ “speak-up” cultures. Where before it was external challenges to corporate practices, challenges from within are becoming more common. Employees are increasingly taking an activist stance; questioning how their companies function or how their leaders intend to tackle issues, particularly within the ESG space.
In part, this trend is linked to another – the uptick in new whistleblowing legislation forcing companies to have in place formal procedures to let employees raise the alarm on bad practices. In the EU in particular, the implementation of the new whistleblowing directive has kept many busy, while similar legislation remains a major topic in the US and UK.
Related to employees’ new-found agency and legal protections comes the continued proliferation of internal investigations. Practitioners note how these have not slowed since the #MeToo and the Black Lives Matter movements first drew significant media and public attention to what truly goes on within companies’ social and corporate structures.
From the “Great Resignation” to economic uncertainty
Originating in the US, the “Great Resignation” kick-started a global war for talent. Whether motivated by higher pay and greater benefits, an improved work-life balance, a new purpose, or just unhappy with their employers’ working demands post-covid, a huge number of workers are seeking pastures new.
However, as we approach 2023, there is a noticeable shift. Restructurings and mass layoffs are making headlines, with more expected on the horizon, as rising inflation and energy costs stymie growth. Experts fear the potential toll on the manufacturing sector, while there are also concerns that a global recession will delay crucial progress in the ESG and D&I spaces.
This is not to mention the greater focus on D&I and ESG more broadly (including pay transparency), increased attention on data privacy and employee monitoring, shifts in pay and benefit plans, and a growing interest in the four-day working week, which prove that now, perhaps more than ever, the role of the employment lawyer is a critical one.
IEL Elite will be updated annually, and will provide in-house counsel with a resource to find the right lawyers to safely navigate these challenges.
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