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What Is Employment Law?

Employment lawEmployment law is concerned with legal issues arising from the relationship between an employer and an employee. It includes arrangements where employers engage employees to carry out services in return for remuneration. As per Section 230 of the UK Employment Rights Act 1996, an “employee” means an individual who has entered into or works under (or, where the employment has ceased, worked under) a contract of employment. All employees have a contract of employment, which need not necessarily be in writing and can be written or oral. It contains the terms and conditions governing the relationship between the employer and the employee. Any rights that employees have under a contract of employment are in addition to their statutory rights, according to Citizens Advice, this includes the right to:

  • Receiving at least National Minimum Wage
  • Paid holidays
  • Written statement of employment
  • Itemised pay statement
  • Maternity leave
  • Compensation for being made redundant
  • Not to be unfairly dismissed

Employment law is generally concerned with the relationship between employees and their employer. It also addresses the collective relationship between groups of employees and those who represent their interests namely, trade unions. The typical activities of trade unions include providing assistance and services to their members, collectively bargaining for better pay and conditions for all workers, working to improve the quality of public services, political campaigning and industrial action. 

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UK Employment Law

Any piece of government legislation designed to protect employees, falls within the employment law expanse. In the UK, employment legislation touches upon four broad areas that form the foundation of employee rights in the workplace namely:

A significant portion of UK employment law is derived from European Union (EU) law. However, it’s important to note that the UK's exit from the EU on 31st January 2020 may have implications on some of these rights in the future. Most EU laws on worker’s rights are implemented in the UK through primary or secondary legislation. EU law introduced new rights into UK law, such as the right to holiday pay or the protection for agency workers. EU law has also extended rights that already existed in UK law, such as the right to equal pay. In a number of areas, the UK has chosen to go beyond EU law requirements, such as providing 39 weeks of paid maternity leave compared to the 14 weeks required by EU law.

To put it simply – as summarised by Practical Law Employment – UK employment law has three sources:

Common Law: where the relationship between the employer and the employee is governed at common law by the contract of employment.

Domestic Law: statute and statutory instruments that confer a number of minimum statutory rights on employees.

EU Law: Employees in England and Wales with additional rights as a result of EU law, particularly in the areas of discrimination, equal pay, etc (however Brexit may have implications on some of these rights in the future).

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What areas does Employment Law cover?

In general, the main areas of employment that are covered by law and regulations are: contracts of employment; working hours; holidays; time off (annual leave or sickness); health & safety; data protection; and anti-discrimination.

Employment law areas

To further clarify and support these aspects of employment law:

 All employees must enter into a contract of employment with the employer, which contains terms and conditions governing the relationship between the employer and the employee.

 A national minimum wage (NMW) applies for all workers over compulsory school leaving age and these rates vary depending on the age of the worker and whether or not they are in training. It is a criminal offence for employers to refuse to pay the NMW. Employees who are not paid the NMW can bring a claim in an employment tribunal.

 There are several ways in which a contract may be terminated at common law, these include – notices given by the employer or the employee; mutual agreement; frustration; end of a fixed-term contract; dismissal by the employer; or termination by the employee.

 A worker has the right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union official at a disciplinary or grievance hearing. Disciplinary hearings are those hearings that could result in a formal warning or some other action taken in relation to the individual. The Acas Code of Practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures is the minimum an employer should follow for handling these issues in the workplace. The Acas Code is designed to help employers, employees and their representatives deal with disciplinary and grievance situations in the workplace. Disciplinary situations include misconduct and/or poor performance. Grievances on the other hand are concerns, problems or complaints that employees raise with their employers.

 The Equality Act (2010) is designed to prevent discrimination on a number of grounds. These grounds are called ‘protected characteristics’ and include:

Protected characteristics

Source

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Why is Employment Law important?

Employment law is constantly undergoing changes, and whether it is to do with free movement of workers or minimum wage, it is important for employees, employers, recruitment agencies and lawyers to stay up to date with these changes. This table illustrates key pieces of UK employment legislation with brief details about what they cover.

Legislation employment law

Source

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What Employment Law issues are most important?

Some issues have taken more prominence in the last few years than others – as this is an ever-evolving field of law it is subject to fluidity and change, responding to what is happening in the world on a daily bases. Areas that have become more important over more recent years include data protection, equality and discrimination, and more recently the pandemic situation that has necessitated swift decision-making on the part of governments which has in turn led to legislative changes in the way businesses are managed and thereby how employees’ issues are addressed. Some of the main reasons that make Employment law crucial to know and understand in today’s day are:

Covid-19 Pandemic

UK employers should monitor and follow advice and guidance from relevant authorities such as the World Health Organization, Public Health England, the NHS, the Government and ACAS. As a result of the Coronavirus Pandemic, employers are required to assess the risks faced by their employees and visitors and implement measures to mitigate those risks, paying particular attention to vulnerable staff.

Data protection    

The roll out of GDPR in 2018 brought the issues surrounding data protection very much to the forefront, particularly in the business world. Data protection laws protect individuals from the misuse of information about them. Updated laws give individuals more control over their personal data as the digital age develops and evolves. Employers should develop policies that take a compliant, but balanced approach. They should also ensure that employees understand their own rights and obligations under data protection law.

Equality     

Equality within a workplace ensures that everyone has equal opportunities and is not denied the rightful promotion or training considering their qualification or experience. Employers cannot discriminate against employees on account of age, gender, nationality, pregnancy and maternity leave, sexual orientation, disabilities, race, ethnic background, religion or beliefs.

Maternity, paternity, parental leave & adoption

A new parent or a person expecting a baby is entitled to extra rights at work. These entitlements include: maternity rights, paternity leave and pay, shared parental leave, unpaid time off to look after the child and attend antenatal appointments.  There are also eligibility rules for leave and pay for parents who take time off to adopt a child or have a child through a surrogacy arrangement.

Health & safety

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 sets out the framework for managing workplace health and safety in the UK. The health, safety and welfare regulations apply to all aspects of the working environment and require employers to provide a workplace that is not only safe but also suitable for the duties that are being carried out within it. 

Brexit

Although this article does not purport to provide an analysis of Brexit implications on UK employment law as this is yet to fully unfold, it is understood that the vast majority of EU laws and case law will become ‘retained law’ in the UK. However, employment law in the UK might start to change gradually which makes it pertinent for employers, employees, lawyers and recruitment consultants to stay up to date with any new developments.

By ensuring compliant, safe and stress-free work practices, employers can secure the best interests of their employees and create safe working spaces. For an employee, by understanding their rights and entitlements, and being able to assert them, they can ensure that employers are kept in check and maintain healthy workplace environments.

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Brexit implications on Employment Law

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