What does Employment Law cover?
Employment law governs the legal relationship between employers and 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, and the rights of the employee, helps maintain a healthy workplace.
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 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 never 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 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 and can help prepare for mediation sessions or tribunal hearings.
Kevin O’Hara and Robert O’Hara have over 60 years’ experience between them in providing employment law advice to individuals and businesses.