Adapt and innovate to for a positive start to 2019
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Oliver Brabbins, head of the Business Law Team at Steeles Law, looks back on a year of change for business.
It is perhaps ironic that the one constant this year is that it has been a year of change. Businesses have had to adapt in 2018 to new realities that few could have once foreseen.
It is an inescapable fact that this year the headlines have been dominated by a single story: Brexit. The ongoing political drama that affects us all has dominated many discussions and parliamentary time like few other issues, with even the nature of our short-term relationship with the EU looking uncertain.
Away from Brexit, in 2018 there has been a focus on the empowerment of individuals with the #metoo movement bringing, in particular, workplace sexual harassment under further scrutiny.
In what the government hailed as a victory for consumers, businesses found themselves no longer able to charge fees for taking payments by credit cards. This has, however, meant that some businesses were faced with making painful changes to their business model.
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In May, when the GDPR came into force, there was a significant change to how businesses use our personal data.
Although there has been much focus on high profile data breaches and scandals, there also remains much confusion and uncertainty.
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One thing is for certain, as our lives become more and more entwined with the internet, privacy and data protection will not go away. There has been increased scrutiny of our workplaces with some employers publicly forced to defend allegations of low wages, allegations of ill-treatment, inequality or abusive workplaces.
Employment tribunal cases have continued to rise, the latest statistics showing claims up 38pc on the same quarter in 2017.
This year, however, a case whether a bakery could decline an order to produce a cake with a message supporting gay marriage started to feel out the boundaries of the drive towards equality. In a decision staying close to the technical wording of the Equality Act 2018, the Supreme Court held that a business is free to object to a message and not, impermissibly, the messenger.
However, in an age of social media, with the possibility of reputational damage, Parliament and the courts are no longer the only drivers of change.
Elsewhere, a continued string of cases against the likes of Deliveroo, Hermes and Uber test the rights of workers in the evolving 'gig economy'.
It remains to be seen how the twin pillars of innovation and Brexit will change the face of our workforce; we have already seen increased interest in exploring opportunities for new efficiencies.
If anything is certain it is that the businesses able to adapt and innovate are the ones best-placed to succeed as we bid farewell to 2018, a year of change.