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The working relationship involving HR and employment law

Published 25 February 2020

Viewed in some quarters as the enforcers in the employment relationship Human Resources (HR) play a crucial role in ensuring an employer acts legally.

There is an image of HR in which it hires and fires, deals with payroll and is guardian of the company rulebook. It is an image that somewhat downplays the importance of the function of the department.

The role covers all aspects of people management, communication and is pivotal in building a positive workplace culture.

HR is key in ensuring that an employer is compliant with legislation. There can be serious and significant repercussions when HR get it wrong.

One of the UK’s largest energy providers was ordered to pay an employee £230,000 for unfair dismissal after conducting a HR process that a judge said was ‘reminiscent of a show trial in the former Soviet Union’ (1)

When people think about employment law and the impact on the management of HR, they tend to think of issues such as health and safety.

Employment law covers many other areas that protect workers and the employer (2). It includes general employment issues, such as:

  • Recruitment, working hours, contracts, employment status (full or part time/flexible)
  • Pay and entitlement for: holidays, sickness, maternity/paternity/adoption
  • Redundancy and retirement

As well as protections, such as:

  • Anti-discrimination laws (sex/age/racial/disability/sexual orientation/religious)
  • Disciplinary and grievance, unfair/wrongful/constructive dismissal, whistleblowing
  • Data protection

Employment law can be complex as the legislation is ever changing and being updated with some subtle and not-so-subtle changes. On 6 April new law changes will include (3):

·         Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay, which will give all employed parents the right to two weeks' leave if they lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. Parents will also be able to claim pay for this period, subject to meeting eligibility criteria.


·         Changes to holiday pay calculations with the reference period to calculate a 'week's pay' for holiday pay purposes will be extended from the previous 12 weeks of work to the previous 52 weeks.

HR will be tasked with ensuring staff are treated in accordance with the new law changes.

Employment law develops through decisions made in Employment Tribunal cases as well as through government policy. 

The full impact that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union will have on employment legislation is still unclear. As is the future challenges it is likely to pose for HR professionals.

It was recently announced that Companies will need to train more British workers to fill vacancies when the new immigration system kicks in requiring foreign workers to have qualifications and the ability to speak English (4)

The introduction of a new system of immigration, which has tighter controls on those who can enter the country was one of the key pledges made by the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

HR not only needs to ensure that an employer complies with legislation, it must provide crucial support in managing the most valuable resource – the workers.

There has been a tendency to dismiss some aspects of employment legislation. You may be familiar with the terms ‘red tape’ or ‘health and safety gone mad’.

However, employment law is aimed at protecting and supporting everyone in the workplace and ensuring they are treated fairly. Without it, employees might not be able to challenge discrimination, bullying or unfair dismissal.

The policies and procedures implemented by HR set the tone of an organisation and can have a significant impact on attracting, engaging and retaining employees.

There has been a trend in recent years for a more holistic approach to HR, which rather than just focus on what an employee brings to the company seeks to discover who they are, what they want out of life and how the job fits in (5).



(1) Reminiscent of a show trial in the former Soviet Union –[Internet]  [Cited 25.02.2020]

(2) Employment Law that protect workers and the employer – [Internet] [Cited 25.02.2020]

(3) New Law Changes – [Internet] [cited 25.02.2020]

(4) New immigration system – [Internet] [Cited 25.02.2020]

(5) Holistic approach to HR – [Internet] [Cited 25.02.2020]


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For free employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 0333 772 0611

A reputation built on success

For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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