Upcoming changes and challenges

Continued uncertainty appears to be the norm. Meanwhile, governments are developing their countries’ employment laws to tackle a variety of pressing issues. Artificial intelligence (AI), contracts, equality, work–life balance, whistleblowing and more are all up for review or discussion.


Both the economic and the political outlook for 2024 are uncertain. Spain, Poland and the Netherlands held elections last year. Mexico, Indonesia, the United States and probably the United Kingdom will hold theirs this year. One thing’s for certain: the results will influence the world of work.

The big question is will new employment laws benefit employers or expand employee rights? From dismissals to productivity, whistleblowing to data privacy, in this Employment Horizons we share our thoughts on what you should prepare for.


Dismissals, fixed-term contracts and productivity

Government responses to the continuing economic uncertainty fall into three main themes:

  • Making it harder for employers to dismiss employees.
  • Encouraging employers to use permanent instead of temporary contracts.
  • Promoting economic growth by improving productivity.

Some governments, including those in Italy and Spain, are taking steps to protect employees from dismissals. This will make it harder for employers to dismiss employees within a time-frame the business wants. Some U.S. states are expanding their advance notification requirements for employers considering large cuts in their workforces.

It’s becoming more difficult for employers to hire staff on flexible contracts. To promote job security, the Netherlands, Spain and Italy imposed new restrictions on fixed-term contracts. Reforms in Mexico make it more costly to end fixed-term contracts than permanent ones. It’s too early to tell whether these measures will work, or if employers will pull back from recruiting if they fear being unable to cut staffing in response to commercial pressures.

Courts and governments continue to grapple with the employment status of gig economy workers. You should expect developments here, as the EU Council and Parliament reach agreement on the EU Platform Work Directive. The directive aims to improve the working conditions of people who work via online platforms.

The third prong of responses to economic uncertainty relates to improving productivity. Government proposals in the United States, and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, will make it harder – or even impossible – to stop employees from going to work for a competitor when moving jobs. One hope is that if employees can switch jobs more easily, they can access higher salaries and boost innovation in the wider economy.

To improve productivity, governments in Mexico and Spain are either cutting or considering cutting standard working hours. There’s also growing support for a four-day working week in Poland, Hungary and the United Kingdom.

Relaxing immigration requirements to attract foreign workers is a priority for some countries in the Asia-Pacific, including Hong Kong and Indonesia.


Balancing work and personal life

Another major trend is how regions responded to the phasing out of COVID-related workplace restrictions and the return to the workplace. Hybrid working has become the norm across Europe and the United States for office workers but in some Asia-Pacific countries, including China and Vietnam, employees are typically back in the office full-time.

Flexible working requests are legally underpinned in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In most other countries, hybrid working has developed because it benefits both employers and employees. Even if employers want employees to spend more time in the workplace, achieving this may be limited by employee demand for flexible working. Tight labour markets and the need to get worker representatives’ consent to change working patterns make this an issue in Germany.

Partly in response to employees’ desire for flexibility and work–life balance of the type they had during pandemic lockdowns, many countries are extending rights to time off. In France, Japan and Singapore, for example, this tends to apply to parents of young children. We’re seeing greater recognition in Spain, Poland and the United Kingdom that employees may have wider caring responsibilities, for older or ill dependants.


Whistleblowing, ESG and data privacy

To reflect the EU Whistleblowing Directive, many member states, including Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, introduced or tweaked their whistleblowing laws in 2023. Meanwhile, regulators in the United States are clamping down on employers’ attempts to stop employees blowing the whistle.

The social aspects of environmental, social and governance (ESG) remain a priority in Europe and the United States. There’s an ongoing focus on pay transparency and how far it’s permissible to take positive action to support underrepresented groups in the workplace.

There’s a lot of chat around AI and its use in employment, although this tends to be dealt with as a data privacy or discrimination issue. Apart from some state- or city-level requirements in the United States, few countries in this report have legislation specifically regulating AI in employment.


Hybrid working has become the norm across Europe and the United States for office workers but in some Asia-Pacific countries, including China and Vietnam, employees are typically back in the office full-time.