Looking back on 2021
Published on : 31/12/2021 31 December Dec 12 2021
As we welcome the New Year, we felt it could be useful to look back on the last 12 months to remind ourselves of what kept us so busy but also what turned out differently from what we had expected.
The Pandemic: The pandemic confronted businesses and workers to a variety of new challenges and legal questions. Health and safety in the workplace was of course a big issue as employers needed to comply with their reinforced obligations to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of their employees. This often meant rearranging workspaces and schedules, and implementing new HR policies aimed at limiting the risk of contagion. It also meant deciding who would be on short-term paid leave and who needed to continue to work.
The arrival of vaccines in 2021 raised new legal conundrums such as mandatory vaccination and whether businesses could ask their employees to provide a negative test result or proof of vaccination. The French legislator and government intervened: with the arrival of the health pass (“pass sanitaire”) and other decrees, there was a new list in August of precisely who must wear a mask at work, in what situations, and who must be vaccinated to continue working.
This was a year that questioned our positions on individual freedom in the workplace, data privacy for example on pre-existing health conditions and the boundaries between private and professional life.
Homeworking: We all discovered mandatory homeworking in 2020. We expected it at the time to be a one-off exceptional situation and that spring 2021 had heralded the return to the office. But it was pushed back to the summer, and then to the fall. And now, as a fifth wave spreads across Europe this winter, some businesses have decided to stop announcing any imminent return to the office. Instead, hybrid work schedules or even full remote work has become the norm for millions of employees.
Many have gotten into the swing of things, but the organization, modalities, and pitfalls of homeworking were a major source of concern for managers, in-house legal counsel, HR, and attorneys. What’s the right amount of days? What is an employer’s liability in terms of health and safety in the home? Professional expenses, working time monitoring, and work/life balance principles were all tested by the extension and prolongation of homeworking.
While homeworking remains a welcome opportunity for many to explore new ways of organizing their work/life balance, it is a matter that will continue to demand attention and caution in 2022.
Brexit: The pandemic wasn’t the only societal issue that challenged businesses and employees. The final departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union created unexpected administrative headaches for companies and their UK and French employees on both sides of the channel.
Both newly arrived and long-term UK employees working in France had to navigate a sometimes complicated bureaucratic process to obtain proof of their right to a continued presence in France. The applications had to be submitted by June 30 2021. While some enjoyed quick responses and received their residency cards promptly, at the time of publishing, several thousand foreign nationals still have their applications pending! The French legislator was obliged to intervene to prolong the rights of UK nationals already on French soil.
In addition, business travelers suddenly had to contemplate asking for visas, even for short term visits that did not fall under the list of exemptions provided for by the agreement negotiated in December 2020. This list was and remains unfortunately quite unclear for many, leading to a guessing-game: individual British or French workers in a same work group may even need different sorts of paperwork depending on their job title.
2021 was a busy and challenging year and 2022 will no doubt hold its own surprises. See our LOOKING FORWARD section for what we believe the next 12-months will hold. In the meanwhile, on behalf of all of us at Flichy Grangé Avocats, we wish you a very happy New Year.
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