Who are you online? – Digital identity update plus workforce planning via employment contracts.

In this week’s update, a quick look firstly at the concept of a digital identify and then a return to HR and employment via the importance of reviewing contract terms.

Who are you online?

When accessing online services and in the environment we have now where face-to-face interactions are actively discouraged for health reasons, the need for an online identity has never been more pronounced.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (“DCMS”) recently published a summary of responses to their 2019 call for evidence on easier and more secure ways of verifying online identities for individuals and businesses, and the Digital Identity Strategy Board (a newly created cross-government board) has devised a next steps plan for the use of digital identity in the UK.

The responses show a broad welcome for the concept of established digital identities which, if done well, could lead to improved access to online services, quicker and easier transactions, as well as a reduction in identity fraud, which has been on the rise in recent years. The time and resources that could be saved in identity checking and other verification processes, also make this an attractive concept.

The key starting point though has to be a clear idea of what a digital identity is. Broadly, it should be about proving who you are when interacting with others online, linked with authoritative government data. The key concern of course, will be how the principles of privacy, transparency, inclusivity, interoperability, proportionality and good governance will be applied to guide decisions on digital identity. Any development would also need to work hand-in-hand with existing digital and e-signature technology. From a data protection perspective, there must also be sufficient information and transparency provided around the creation and use of a digital identity with an element of choice and control for the individual.

Alongside the summary of responses, the Digital Identity Strategy Board issued a document noting that the government plans to:

  • consult on developing legislation for consumer protection relating to digital identity, specific rights for individuals and an ability to seek redress if something goes wrong;
  • consult on the appropriate privacy and technical standards for administering and processing secure digital identities;
  • update existing laws on identity checking to enable digital identity to be used as widely as possible; and
  • set out where the responsibility for oversight should lie.

More will undoubtedly follow on what will be a growth subject.

Employment Contracts – time for a review?

For many businesses, now appears to be the time to review either making some of the temporary changes they have in place permanent or looking at other changes to the way in which people work.

Any process though, will need to start with what there actually is in any current contracts of employment, whether and how this can be varied to meet the ongoing business needs and whether any changes can be agreed with employees.

Examples of headings to consider would include:

  • Annual leave – what flexibility may now be needed to permit any outstanding contractual holiday to be carried into subsequent leave years;
  • Benefits – whether changes will need to be made to employees’ benefits packages.
  • Place of work – looking at the cost/benefit analysis around employees continuing to work from home in the long term and whether this would affect the place of work set out in the contract; and
  • Pay reductions – will any temporary pay measures need to be extended or made permanent given the ongoing struggle most businesses are facing and the outlook ahead.

There is no one size fits all solution here and plans will vary from business to business, taking into account all sorts of factors including the number of employees involved and the types of changes being made.

The most important questions we advise on to consider before starting any change process would be:

  • What exactly does the contract state here and now?
  • What exactly do you want to change?
  • Are you clear as to who exactly will be affected?
  • When ideally, do we want the change to take effect?
  • Why are you looking to make these changes?

With the ever present risks and legal consequences of handling any change process badly,  handled wrong, these questions need to be thought about as much in advance as possible and planned in detail before taking any steps to make changes.

The end goal in an ideal world, is to be able to work with employees through individual or collective consultation (as necessary) to reach the best outcome for them and for the business.

In the absence of this though,  businesses may need to undertake further consultation with employees and if agreement cannot be reached after the right consultation, businesses may then need to consider their options including:

  • Imposing those terms on employees;
  • Looking to terminate the employment on notice and then re-engaging on those new terms; or
  • Relying on an existing flexibility clause in the contract if there is one.

Conclusion

Developing a legal framework for digital identities could increase the speed and ease with which individuals and businesses access services and complete transactions with one another online. There are key questions though around how issues such as identity theft would be dealt with and standards required to increase public trust in the concept of a digital identity. We will keep you in the loop as this develops nationally.

On the employment contract front, with everything that has happened over the last 12 months or so, it is vitally important to try and keep the basics right. Taking some time to ensure that all employment contracts are up to date and amended where necessary, plus ensuring that any change to contractual terms is implemented by following a fair process, lessens the serious risks of getting any change management process wrong. We have a HR and employment specialist Lucy Churchill, who can assist with any queries on this on either 01603 677077 or lucy.churchill@spiresolicitors.co.uk.

Please drop me an e mail or call if you need any further details and stay safe and well.

Roger