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What is Employment law

Published 11 June 2018

What is employment law and how is it enforceable?

Employment law is ever changing and keeping up to date with it is vital as a failure to do so can prove extremely costly.

It governs the working relationship between employers and employees and covers all aspects of employment.

Employment legislation regulates what organisations can expect from workers, what employers can ask employees to do, and employees’ rights at work.

Compliance with employment law means an employer can ensure its recruitment process, disciplinary and dismissal process and its workplace in general is fair for everyone. It will also help to prevent discrimination and to promote equality in the workplace.

If a current or former employee or worker or a job applicant considers their rights have been breached they can sue the employer responsible. The ensuing legal battle, successful or otherwise, can be costly and have consequences such as reputational damage. 

Therefore, a thorough understanding of the legal environment, including how to apply the law correctly, is essential for good management

Every organisation, regardless of its size and resources, has a duty to follow the relevant rules and regulations and to do everything that is reasonable and within its power to get it right. The onus, however, is not just on the employers.

Employees may well know the basics of employment law and believe that is all they need to know. Even if you believe aspects of it do not directly affect you, you may be surprised by what it actually covers – and how much of an impact it could have on your career.

Employees should be aware of their own responsibilities and rights. Employment law encompasses everything from employment contracts, working hours and breaks, through to laws which protect against unlawful discrimination and unfair dismissal.

It would be difficult to list in this space everything or even most of what employment law covers, but just a few examples include:

  • Discrimination based on one or more of the protected characteristic of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation (1)
  • Bullying and harassment, which is unwanted behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated, degraded, humiliated or offended.(2)
  • Dismissal and employee grievances. Poor management of discipline, grievances and dismissal can be very costly in time, money and damage to employee relations. (3).
  • Employment contracts. A legally enforceable agreement between an employer and an employee, which can impose duties on both parties. (4)
  • Equal Pay. Employees  have a right to equal pay with members of the opposite sex doing the same job, a similar job, or a job of equal value (5).
  • Reasonable adjustments. Employees have the right to ask for reasonable adjustments if they have a disability (6).

If a worker complains of being denied his or her legal right an employer should always seek to understand and resolve the matter if possible.  A failure to find a suitable and agreeable resolution can result in the individual taking legal action.

Most employment law is classified as civil or private law, meaning it is applied when one party (called the claimant) sues another party (known as the respondent) typically for compensation or some other desired solution in a civil court.

In such circumstances the claimant – who can be either a former or current employee or worker or rejected job applicant – can use the court system to make a claim that the respondent (the employer or former employer) has caused them some type of detriment and breached the law.

There are numerous examples of employers paying a significant price for breaching employment law. The most recent high profile case involved a chief Inspector with the Metropolitan Police (7).

The decorated male office was reportedly awarded £870,000 for sex discrimination after complaining about the treatment he suffered from his female boss.



1.Protected characteristics | Equality and Human Rights Commission [Internet]. [cited 2018 Jun 2]. Available from:

2. Bullying and harassment | Acas advice and guidance [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2018 Jun 2]. Available from:

3. Great Britain, Advisory C and Arbitration Service.

4. Employment contracts [Internet]. GOV.UK. [cited 2018 Jun 3]. Available from:

5. Equal pay | Pay [Internet]. UNISON National. [cited 2018 Jun 3]. Available from:

6. Reasonable adjustments for workers with disabilities or health conditions [Internet]. GOV.UK. [cited 2018 Jun 3]. Available from:

7. Davies G. Met chief wins £870,000 after being hounded out of job by “sexist” female boss trying to abolish “macho culture.” The Telegraph [Internet]. 2018 May 23 [cited 2018 Jun 3]; Available from:


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