Insights Blog

The Spring European Employment Summit, hosted by International Employment Lawyer took place recently in Croke Park. The summit brought together senior in-house and private practice lawyers to explore the challenges and opportunities facing multinational employers and their counsel across the region.

Louise O’Byrne, Partner in our Employment Group moderated the first session of the day on “Europe’s Future Working Trends”, looking at a broad range of topics from automation, AI and flexible working, to ESG, the gig economy and free speech at work.  The session provided an overview of ongoing employment trends and their implications for Europe’s workforce.

The panellists considered the different approaches to remote working throughout Europe and within their organisations, ranging from remote first policies, hybrid working as well as discussing their successes in implementing a return to offices post-Covid. Increased flexibility of employers was seen as an important means of retaining key talent.  There was also a recognition that employers who wish to encourage or even mandate greater office attendance need to invest in onsite benefits, while remote first polices also presented challenges for employers with associated issues such as health and safety, insurance and colleague connectivity, along with GDPR, confidentiality and mental health.

The panel also discussed new employment rights and the weight of regulation, including the right to disconnect, facilitating flexible working arrangements, entitlements to medical care leave, the introduction of a 37.5 hour working week and obligations in relation to pay transparency.  While many of these rights are coming from a European level, it was clear from discussions that the move towards achieving a work/life balance for all workers has been gathering momentum and that many organisations are thinking outside the box in this area. Family-friendly policies continue to be expanded in most jurisdictions, driven by an objective of promoting gender equality and responding to the expectations of employees.

A significant focus of the discussion was on the impact that technology continues to have on workplace issues, with AI continuing to feature in the evolving landscape of work in Europe.  The panel considered how some organisations are actively encouraging employees to embrace “all things technology” whilst putting in place clear guidelines and ensuring open lines of communication with employees on their use of AI in the workplace. In certain jurisdictions, significant co-determination rights means that many AI initiatives that employers seek to implement will require Works Council approval.  As a result, the implementation process does not always move at the pace US technology companies initially envisage.

While the gig economy has been embraced in some jurisdictions, others are grappling with the balance between achieving the necessary flexibility for all parties and protecting often vulnerable workers working in this area.  We also heard how technology and undisclosed “double jobbing” can lead to heated litigation and novel legal challenges for employers and their advisors.

Free speech in the workplace was another critical topic, with a focus on the rising trend of employee activism and the challenges it poses in distinguishing between work and personal life. The necessity for clear guidelines on respecting diverse views and cultural sensitivities, especially online, was emphasised.

Lastly, the panel addressed ESG considerations, stressing the importance of HR and employment counsel involvement in ESG strategy development.  ESG’s role in attracting and retaining talent was noted, along with the need for creative, employee-driven approaches to ESG initiatives. The importance of multidisciplinary collaboration and the potential of ethnicity report were also discussed, underscoring ESG’s growing influence in organisational strategies.

To discuss any of these topics in more depth, please contact your usual Arthur Cox Employment Group contact.