We often read about big pay-out employment tribunals in the papers, but the reality is these are far and few between. However its easy to get concerned by the stories in the press. This article goes through some very basic aspects of employment law.
What is employment law?
When we talk about employment law we refer to the different statutes or acts that set out the legal entitlements employees have to certain conduct, benefits and rights from their employer or their employment.
Employment law is part of what we refer to as civil rather than criminal law. Criminal law covers issues between the state and a wrong doer whereas civil law deals with issues between two parties and in this case it is between the employer and the employee.
The employment relationship is governed by a variety of different statutes and acts that are regarded as employment law.
Employment law gets updated every year from minor to major changes. If you retain the services of a solicitor, then they will be able to keep you informed of any changes and how they effect you. If you don’t have a solicitor then the ACAS website has an employment law update with a timetable of the changes that are due to come into effect.
When do I need to think about employment law?
The table below shows the different stages of an employee life cycle and the laws that apply during these stages.
Laws to be aware off
Equality Act 2010, Rehabilitation of Offenders 1974, Data Protection Act
Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006
Employment Rights Act 1996, The Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) regulatiobs 2002, The Part-time Workers
Training and Development
Equality Act 2010, Employment Rights Act 1996, Education and Skill Act 2008, The Employee Study and Training Regulations 2010
Change in personal circumstances
Employment Rights Act 1996, The Flexible Working Regulations 2014, Employment Act 2002
Equality Act 2010, Employment Rights Act 1996
Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act
Mergers and Acquisitions
The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations 2006
End of employment
Employment Rights Act 1996, Equality Act 2010, The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, The Collective Redundancoes and the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) (Amendment) Regulations 1999
What are the primary pieces of legislation?
Equality Act 2010
One of the most significant pieces of legislation to govern the employment relationship is the Equality Act 2010. In summary the Act sets out nine protected characteristics that it is illegal to discriminate on. It is illegal to discriminate on the following grounds:
Religion or belief
Pregnancy and maternity
Marriage and civil partnership
Employment Rights Act 1996
This is the Act that governs the majority of the employment relationship, including but not limited to entitlements around:
Contracts of employment
Dismissal and Grievance
Study and Training
Maternity, Paternity, flexible working
Termination of employment.
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA)
This is the main piece of legislation covering occupational health and safety. The HSWA can sometimes seem daunting not least because if you are in breach of Health and Safety legislation you can find yourself having to pay significant compensation or in extreme cases facing Corporate Manslaughter charges.
Essentially you need to ensure that you do everything reasonable and sensible to ensure that your employees are protected from harm and their health, safety and welfare is not put at risk.
In your business you will keep a lot of records and many of these will be about your employees. You will have information such as CVs, address details, bank details, maybe even details regarding their health. The DPA controls the use and storage of personal information. There are key data protection principles that must be followed by all employers.
Working Time Regulations (1998) & The Working Time (Amendment) Regulations 2007
These stem from a European Union directive on working time and are enforced by the Health and Safety Executive and fall under Health and Safety legislation. The legislation sets out some key requirements around:
maximum number of hours a person can work
limits on night work
How can I resolve a dispute with my employee?
The majority of disputes can actually be resolved internally and most guidance and legislation encourages you to try to resolve the situation within your business before seeking help and advice externally.
Disputes within the workplace can happen for a variety of reasons. Some of the issues include:
bullying and harassment
poorly defined job roles.
Conflict within the workplace should be treated at the earliest stage possible. This will prevent the situation from escalating and will save on time, money and stress in the long term.
If a conflict should occur, the first step would be to talk to your employee. This should be done with sensitivity: give the employee an opportunity to express themselves, ask any questions calmly and listen to what is being said. It could be that there has been a simple misunderstanding or mistake that can be resolved quickly.
If the matter can’t be sorted out informally, there a various options you may want to consider.
keep a record of relevant events, including times, dates and details
keep copies of anything relevant to the complaint – e.g emails, meetings, etc
Disputes and conflicts within the workplace will happen, but steps can be taken to ensure they are kept to a minimum:
talk and listen to your staff. Encourage an open culture where staff feel comfortable at voicing opinions
have clear discipline, grievance and disputes procedures in place. Ensure staff are aware of these procedures
train any managers on the process of handling disputes and conflicts with staff.
What happens if I get taken to a tribunal?
There’s a useful government website that sets out all the things you need to know and do if you are being taken to a tribunal.
If you lose the tribunal, it’s important to remember that employment law is about compensation rather than punishment as it sits within the principles of civil rather than criminal law. Therefore, key things the tribunal might instruct you to do are:
Require you to give your employee their job back
Pay compensation and or damages to your employee for any injury to personal feelings or loss of income
Pay any witness expenses for your employee
Pay your employees tribunal fees.
When do I need a solicitor?
That’s really up to you to decide depending on your prior experience of employment law and if you are not worried about cost you can use a solicitor for most things.
However, there is a large amount of freely available guidance and information around different work place situations. Trusted guidance comes from the government websites at www.acas.org.uk and www.cipd.co.uk
A law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to put you in touch with a local legal adviser who offers a free or mixed-fee interview. Many law firms undertake pro-bono work, which means they provide advice for free. It’s worth enquiring as to whether they do pro-bono for you type of business.
To find a solicitor on your area search The Law Society’s database here.