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Employment law is your business

Published 24 October 2017

Employment law can be complex and confusing but knowing exactly how it works can protect both employers and employees.

It covers all aspects of the working relationship, and a good knowledge of ever changing legislation is vital for employers. It can help organisations to avoid what can be costly and damaging employment tribunal claims and lawsuits.

Employment law is wide ranging and it regulates the working relationship that employers have with their employees. It sets out what organisations can expect from workers, what they can ask them to do and it also covers the employee’s rights.

For an employer being fully aware of its legal responsibilities and keeping up to date with legislation can be intimidating. Legal regulations include the treatment of employees; employee pay and working hours; employment contracts and conditions; sickness absence and time off work; and business transfers and takeovers.

There are a number of laws designed to safeguard employees, which include:

  • Health and Safety at Work (1) employers must provide safe premises and machinery. They must ensure that a worker’s health is not affected by their work.

  • The National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage (2). The National Minimum Wage is the minimum pay per hour almost all workers are entitled to. The National Living Wage is higher than the National Minimum Wage - workers get it if they are over 25.

  • Race, sex, age or disability discrimination are illegal (3). Businesses have to treat all workers fairly. They must offer equal pay and promotion opportunities for women and ethnic minorities.

  • The Working Time Regulations (4) set a limit on the number of hours staff can work in a week.

  • Parental Rights (5) mean parents are entitled to paid leave from work after a child is born. An employer must keep their position open for when they return to work from maternity or paternity leave.

Different legislation is changed and updated every year. This will usually follow advance notification of any proposed changes. While larger employers will have dedicated professionals to deal with such matters, it can be difficult for smaller organisations to keep abreast of it. Ignorance of the law, however, is not a valid excuse for any breach.

The government has introduced a number of changes to employment law this year and there are further changes proposed for next year, which include:

  • Termination Payments: Taxation. Covering severance payments.
  • Grandparental Leave. Extending shared parental leave and pay to working grandparents.
  • General Data Protection Regulations. Employers will be required to carry out audits of employee personal data that they collect and process to ensure it meets the General Data Protection Regulations

Serious breaches of employment law can prove costly for employers and badly damage a hard earned reputation.

Popular theme park Alton Towers was fined a record £5m for a non-fatal accident that occurred after serious health and safety breaches caused a rollercoaster crash in June 2015. Sixteen people were injured, including two young girls who needed leg amputations (6).

A former RAF nurse was awarded more than half a million pounds after winning a claim for sex discrimination against the Ministry of Defence when she was overlooked for promotion (7).

There is some uncertainty about what impact Brexit will have on employment law in the UK.

For more than 15 years there has been a substantial European influence on employment law in the UK. It has become a leading source of employee protection legislation and the government has vowed to protect all workers’ rights that come from the EU.

The Trade Union Congress believes the European Union withdrawal bill will be a key moment for everyone concerned about fair treatment in the workplace (8).

References

  1. Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 – legislation explained [Internet]. [cited 2017 Oct 17]. Available from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/legislation/hswa.htm
  2. National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage rates - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Oct 16]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates
  3. Discrimination: your rights: Discrimination at work - GOV.UK [Internet]. [cited 2017 Oct 16]. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/discrimination-your-rights/discrimination-at-work
  4. Working hours | Acas advice and guidance [Internet]. 2008 [cited 2017 Oct 17]. Available from: http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1373
  5. Parental rights at work [Internet]. [cited 2017 Oct 17]. Available from: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/rights-at-work/parental-rights/parental-rights-at-work/
  6. Alton Towers operator fined £5m. BBC News [Internet]. 2016 Sep 27 [cited 2017 Oct 17]; Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-stoke-staffordshire-37481825
  7. Birmingham Queen Elizabeth Hospital RAF nurse wins £560,000 in sex discrimination case - Birmingham Mail [Internet]. [cited 2017 Oct 17]. Available from: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/birmingham-queen-elizabeth-hospital-raf-7062032
  8. O’Grady F. Your employment rights could be put at risk through Brexit. Here’s why | Frances O’Grady. The Guardian [Internet]. 2017 Sep 3 [cited 2017 Oct 17]; Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/03/employment-rights-risk-brexit-eu-withdrawal-bill

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