What does Employment Law cover?
Employment Law is concerned with the legal relationship between employers and their employees. Its purpose is to protect both the business (or other kind of employer) and the people who work for them, by regulating the rights and obligations of both parties. It covers issues such as pay and minimum wage, working hours, holidays, maternity leave, health and safety, discipline, discrimination and whistle-blowing.
From recruitment to retirement, a good relationship between employer and employee is important, and understanding what the law says about what an employer can ask an employee to do as well as the rights of the employee helps maintain a good working relationship throughout.
Employment rights depend on employment status. UK law recognises three different forms of employment status: 1) self-employed; 2) workers; 3) employed. The self-employed are not covered by most employment laws. Workers have limited but significant rights. There are tests to establish whether someone ought to be classified as a worker or an employee. However, an employee is defined in the Employment Rights Act 1996 as “an individual who has entered into or works under a contract of service”. An employer must make the employment status clear at the outset.
The Employment Contract
From 6 April 2020 all workers have a right to a written statement of their employment particulars. For employees this takes the form of a contract of employment, which is legally binding on both the employee and the employer as regards the terms and conditions of employment and governed by normal contract law.
It is fundamental that the terms of a contract must comply with any minimum legal standards and be clear and unambiguous. Typically, a contract would cover holiday entitlement, remuneration, working hours, length of notice, training particulars, benefits, job title and a brief description of the tasks required to be undertaken. It must be signed before, or on, the first working day.
Health & Safety
Employers have an obligation to provide a safe working environment. While there is a significant number of laws covering health and safety in the workplace from insurance requirements to stipulating working time and adequate rests and breaks, common law recognises an employer owes a general duty of care to protect their workers. Failing in this duty could lead to claims for unfair dismissal and personal injury and lead to criminal prosecution.
An employer’s duties, such as a risk assessment and having in place a health and safety policy should not be ignored. Failing to adhere to employment statutes such as the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 can result in heavy fines and orders requiring expensive and time intensive improvements in employment practices and environment. Additionally, individuals found responsible for the breaches can be prosecuted for gross negligence or manslaughter.
Discrimination is illegal whether based on sex, age, race, sexual orientation or any other protected characteristic. Discrimination means treating someone less favourably than someone else and may be direct or indirect. The law protects workers from discrimination and harassment from when they apply for a job, throughout their employment and even afterwards. Being familiar with the anti-discrimination laws can help avoid legal disputes regarding discrimination.
Problems in a working relationship almost always originate from specific employee complaints about their working conditions or treatment, or when an employer has concerns about an employee’s behaviour, attendance etc. Certain formal steps ought to be followed before taking a dispute to an Employment Tribunal. We would advise third party mediation before any court or tribunal appeal. We can help prepare for mediation sessions or tribunal hearings.
An employee may enter into a settlement agreement upon the conclusion of their employment with their employer. This occurs where an employee has potential claims against the employer under the Employment Rights Act 1996 or other employment legislation. The employee will agree, as part of the settlement, to accept the terms of the agreement in full and final settlement of any claims they may have relating to the employment.
The settlement agreement may also provide that the employee should not commence legal proceedings in respect of those claims. Typically the employer will pay at least a contribution to the employee’s legal fees, as the employer will wish the agreement to be legally binding and this can only be achieved if the employee has taken the requisite legal advice.
By entering into a settlement agreement, the employer has certainty that the employee will have no claim in the future against the employer. Among other things, the settlement agreement will deal with all payments and benefits owing or agreed to be paid to the employee.
A protective award is an award of compensation available to employees where:
- 20 or more employees are made redundant at a workplace and the employer fails to properly inform/engage in consultation about the redundancies; or
- employees are transferred from one company to another and the employer fails to properly inform/engage in consultation about the transfer.
Employers need to be aware of the strict consultation and engagement requirements, and the rights enjoyed by employees.
We have an experienced and insightful employment law team and can assist with all areas of employment law.