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The end of statutory discrimination questionnaires




Neena-PatelStatutory discrimination questionnaires have existed largely in the same form since they were first introduced by section 74 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. They have developed into a useful tool for individuals who believe they may have been discriminated against or who believe they may have an equal pay claim but need evidence to support their claim. Statutory discrimination questionnaires allow individuals to elicit further information about the allegedly discriminatory conduct of their employers or work colleagues. Under the current legislation, discrimination questionnaires can be served any time before an employment tribunal claim is issued or within 28 days after issue. The employer has eight weeks within which to respond to a questionnaire.

Although employers are not legally obliged to respond to discrimination questionnaires, they are usually encouraged to do so because a tribunal may draw adverse inferences from a failure to reply or if the answers are evasive or equivocal.

A carefully drafted statutory discrimination questionnaire can ask invasive and potentially embarrassing questions of an employer. For example, it can seek to extract statistics about the employer’s ratio of male to female employees generally and at board level, the racial make-up of its work force and whether complaints of discrimination have been made either against it or members of the senior management team in the past. From an employee’s perspective, the questionnaire helps to address the evidential imbalance that is inherent in most discrimination and equal pay cases where the employer is likely to hold all or most of the information that would tend to support or disprove an allegation of discrimination. However, responding to discrimination questionnaires can be an expensive, frustrating and time consuming process for employers. The Government estimates that 9,000 to 10,000 businesses complete the questionnaires each year with each questionnaire taking approximately 5 to 6 hours to complete, totalling somewhere between 45,000 and 60,000 employee hours per year. There is also a common perception that discrimination questionnaires are often used as a “fishing expedition” by individuals who do not have any real or reasonable cause for complaint.

In May last year, the Government Equalities Office acknowledged employers’ concerns and published a consultation paper which contained proposals to repeal the statutory discrimination questionnaire provisions, now contained in section 138 of the Equality Act 2010. These proposals form part of the Government’s commitment to cut red-tape for small businesses. The Government has decided to push ahead with the proposed repeal despite opposition from trade unions and equality lobby groups. It has stated that the removal of the statutory discrimination questionnaire provisions will not prevent individuals from seeking pre-claim information about potential allegations of discrimination through a more informal route.

So, what will be the real impact of the repeal for both employers and employees?
Although employers may welcome the Government’s proposals, the benefit is likely to be limited. Employees and their advisers will inevitably seek out more creative and equally burdensome ways to elicit the same information currently obtained through statutory discrimination questionnaires. For example, where parties are already involved in litigation we are likely to see an increase in applications to the tribunal for orders for further information or disclosure. Similarly, there is nothing to prevent employees from submitting informal (non-statutory) questions as a pre-action request and then using their employers’ responses or failure to respond in evidence against them in proceedings. However, in the absence of legislation governing the procedure for obtaining such information, we are likely to see a concurrent increase in satellite litigation surrounding (i) whether an employer is obliged to respond to non-statutory questions; (ii) the time frame which is considered reasonable for an employer respond; and (iii) the extent to which inferences can be drawn by a tribunal in relation to an employer’s failure to respond.

We may also see an increase in the use of data subject access requests being made by employees under section 7 of the Data Protection Act 1998. The data subject access request is a means of extracting personal data held about the employee and is also often used as a tactical tool to encourage employers to offer a higher settlement package. Data subject access requests are relatively easy and inexpensive to make but can be time consuming and burdensome for employers to respond to.

The repeal of the statutory discrimination questionnaire provisions was expected to come into force in March 2013. However, as at the date of writing this article the Government had still not published a firm date for when the repeal will come into effect. Therefore the provisions relating to statutory discrimination questionnaires remain in force for the time being, but for how long we have yet to see.

Neena Patel specialises in Employment Law and is an associate at Fox, Solicitors based in the City of London:

Neena Patel joined Fox in June 2010 and specialises in employment and partnership law. She advises companies, LLPs, professional partnerships, senior executives and partners on a variety of issues including commercially sensitive senior level appointments and departures. Her experience includes drafting and advising on various types of employment and partnership documentation including service agreements, staff policies and procedures, compromise agreements, retirement deeds and LLP and partnership agreements. Neena also has experience in advising on redundancy exercises, sex and disability discrimination litigation in the employment tribunal and providing strategic and tactical advice in team move scenarios and partnership disputes, including advice on issues such as restrictive covenants and fiduciary obligations.

Neena is a member of the Employment Lawyers’ Association and regularly attends seminars and training events.
Fox are a boutique law firm based in the City of London, specialising in contentious employment and partnership issues swiftly and effectively.





Why CMOs Should Care About Customer IAM



Why CMOs Should Care About Customer IAM 1

By Darshana Gunawardana, Associate Director/Architect at WSO2

The surge to move online in 2020, in turn, has driven demand for high-performance, cost-effective customer identity access management solutions. And as we kick off 2021, customer identity and access management (CIAM) have become essential for any business to really understand their customers which is why CMOs should actively engage with and care about their CIAM system.  I say this because within the various stages of a customer’s buying journey, such as awareness, consideration, purchase and service, more often than not a CIAM is running in the background ensuring the right solution enhances their digital experience by providing significantly better onboarding, personalisation, omnichannel experiences, and privacy controls and building that all-important trust with the customer.

So, let’s take a look at how CIAM works and the benefits it provides in the various stages of the customer journey:

The awareness stage is the very first step where a customer interacts with a company’s brand. This is where customers get to know about the product or the service offered by the business, which may lead them to access the company website or content on other platforms such as social media.

At this stage, customer interactions typically occur at an anonymous level. Therefore, the involvement of a CIAM solution will be minimal as no identifying information is available. However, it’s important to make use of products such as web analytics to preserve customer interest, which can be beneficial at a later stage.

At the consideration stage, customers will have more focused needs and they will show more engagement by downloading datasheets, following product demos/trials, etc. Typically, one or two customer attributes are captured in the CIAM at this level. Depending on the prominence of the attributes, this would be the starting point of representing the customer as a light user account in the CIAM system. These accounts do not have any credentials associated with them since customers have not gone through an onboarding process.

At this level, the CIAM’s inbound and outbound provisioning capabilities play a key role. For example, a prospective customer downloads a catalogue from a product website by providing their email; then, the website would create a light account in the CIAM system using a standard provisioning protocol like SCIM. Next, the CIAM solution will (outbound) provision that user account to different marketing tools – for example, Hubspot, and CRM tools like Salesforce, or web analytics such as Mixpanel.

Likewise, the organisation might correlate the light account with web analytics. This helps to obtain more insights about users, such as geolocation and what type of content they looked at during the awareness stage. These details can be used to provide more relevant, personalised information in the future.

The purchase stage is the level that receives the most amount of attention from most organisations. Depending on laws and regulations, it will be crucial to have verified user details. However, it’s important to ensure that the customer registration and onboarding process is simple and user-friendly.

Minimising the mandatory information fields requested from a customer helps significantly. This can be done by auto-filling information that is already associated with the light account. Another way to do this is by using progressive profiling so that the customer has to provide additional details only when they access a specific service that requires these details.

Having to maintain many accounts and credentials is a major pain point from a customer’s perspective. The ability to bring your own ID (BYOID)  to help simplify the registration process is important. This will also help to reduce self-service or call centre interactions in later stages as it will lessen the need of having to recover an account owing to misplaced or forgotten credential details.

Moreover, having direct integrations with identity verification services like Evident ID in the CIAM solution reduces the overhead of providing various documents or having to go through a manual process to verify customer information, such as proof of citizenship, insurance validity, and so on.

The service stage is also a key stage for many consumer businesses. The user experience at this level determines whether existing customers become champions or detractors for the brand.

From a CIAM standpoint, users should have seamless access to any product or service they consume. If there are multiple services involved, basic things like the ability to consume both services with the same account and having single sign-on among multiple applications have become must-have capabilities. Strong authentication with additional factors is also a need when accessing sensitive applications. In addition, adaptive authentication also plays a key role to balance convenience over security. Having mechanisms like account locking, and risk-based authentication gives more assurance to protect customers’ accounts from malicious parties.

This leads to another vital requirement: self-service. Customers should be able to update and review their privacy preferences, such as the use of different emails for different activities, change associated profile information, and update contact information. At the same time, a user should be able to adjust their security profile by configuring recovery mechanisms and register trusted devices for login. With the advancement of privacy regulations across the world, modern businesses must also give users data portability and the ability to deregister.

Additionally, during the service stage, a business might also go through changes, e.g., mergers and acquisitions of other brands, and these activities should not drastically impact the customer experience. The right CIAM solution can facilitate these moves in an incremental manner.

CIAM can even help initiatives such as loyalty programs, which aim to increase customer engagement. Loyal customers might opt for early access to new products and give more accurate feedback, which can be utilised in A/B testing for product or service changes.

As a CIAM solution is well connected with every system involving the customer, it enables organisations to generate enhanced and actionable behavioural data that can be used to predict and determine possible interests. Even during unprecedented times, this information helps to make better-informed decisions.

Enhancing the customer experience is at the heart of digital transformation. Today’s increasingly sophisticated customers view digital interactions as the primary mechanism to interact with products and services and, consequently, expect deeper online relationships delivered simply, securely, and seamlessly. CIAM plays a vital role in connecting applications and APIs to customers and provides all the capabilities needed to deliver a customer experience that is second to none.

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Volkswagen faces EU fine for missing 2020 emissions targets



Volkswagen faces EU fine for missing 2020 emissions targets 2

BERLIN (Reuters) – Volkswagen faces a fine of more than 100 million euros ($121 million) for missing EU targets on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from its 2020 passenger car fleet, the world’s largest carmaker said on Thursday.

It cut average CO2 emissions in the fleet in the European Union by around 20% to 99.8 g/km, but that was around 0.5 g/km above its target, Volkswagen said.

That implied EU fines amounting to a “very low triple-digit million amount”, a spokesman said.

European policymakers have clamped down on exhaust emissions, forcing carmakers to spur development of low-emission technology or face a penalty of 95 euros per gram of excess CO2 they emit.

“We narrowly missed the fleet target for 2020, thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” CEO Herbert Diess said in a statement, adding he hoped to meet the target this year as the company’s main brands bring out new electric models.

Volkswagen is reducing the combustion-engined cars it offers and retooling more factories to build electric vehicles in an effort to keep up with electric carmaker Tesla.

It has said the EU’s more stringent emissions targets will force it to boost the proportion of hybrid and electric vehicles in its European car sales to 60% by 2030, up from a previous target of 40%.

Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating emissions tests on diesel engines, a scandal which has cost it more than 30 billion euros ($33 billion) in regulatory fines and vehicle refits, mostly in the United States.

($1 = 0.8237 euros)

(Reporting by Jan Schwartz, writing by Emma Thomasson; editing by Jason Neely)

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Oil dips after unexpected rise in U.S. crude stocks



Oil dips after unexpected rise in U.S. crude stocks 3

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil slipped on Thursday after industry data showed a surprise increase in U.S. crude inventories that revived pandemic-related demand concerns, but United States stimulus hopes limited the price downturn.

Brent crude futures fell 47 cents, or 0.8%, to $55.61 a barrel by 1030 GMT.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 43 cents, or 0.8%, to $52.88 a barrel, following two days of gains on expectations of massive COVID-19 relief spending under new U.S. President Joe Biden.

U.S. crude oil inventories rose 2.6 million barrels in the week to Jan. 15, according to data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute, compared with analysts’ forecasts in a Reuters poll for a 1.2 million barrel fall. [API/S]

Official Energy Information Administration (EIA) inventory data is due on Friday.

“If delayed EIA numbers tomorrow show a similar crude oil build, it would be the first build seen since early December,” analysts at bank ING said.

Rising COVID-19 cases in China, the world’s largest crude oil importer, also weighed on prices.

Beijing plans to impose strict COVID testing requirements during the Lunar New Year holiday season, when tens of millions of people are expected to travel, as it battles the worst wave of new infections since March 2020.

The commercial hub of Shanghai reported its first locally transmitted cases in two months on Thursday.

Elsewhere, new U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has committed to curb carbon emissions and among his first actions as president, Biden announced America’s return to the Paris climate accord and revoked a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline project from Canada.

The administration is also committed to ending new oil and gas leasing on federal lands.

The administration will also seek to lengthen and strengthen the nuclear constraints on Iran through diplomacy and will be raising the issue in early talks with foreign counterparts and allies, according to the White House.

(Additional reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Koustav Samanta in Singapore. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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