Employment law in the UK is designed to protect the rights of workers and/or employees and covers almost every aspect of the employer/employee relationship. Every business, regardless of its size, has to comply with various rules and regulations in order to avoid costly legal proceedings in an employment tribunal.
Broadly speaking, employment law covers the following areas:
The terms and conditions of an employment contract
Treatment of employees
Employee pay and working hours
Working time and time off
Business transfers and takeovers
Within these broad areas, employment law touches upon more specific and sometimes complex workplace issues. Every employer needs to understand how to recognise those issues when they arise, the regulations that affect each one and what they need to do to ensure they are compliant. The following is an extensive, but not exhaustive, list of the specific issues covered:
Disciplinary action and employee grievances
Maternity, paternity, adoption and parental rights
Discrimination on grounds of age, sex, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, marital or civil partner status, religion or belief, maternity and pregnancy
Bullying and harassment
Termination of employment including redundancy and dismissal
Entitlement to annual leave and breaks during working-time
Sickness absence and incapacity
Treatment of fixed-term and part-time employees
Treatment of agency workers
Treatment of workers who make protective disclosures (whistleblowers)
Provision of minimum terms and conditions of employment
Requirements when merging with or buying another business
Employee data and monitoring
For many small businesses, understanding their obligations under employment law in the first place and then keeping up to date with the regular changes can be daunting. It can be time-consuming and expensive, and unless the business employs a dedicated HR person, can deflect time and attention away from business development opportunities. However, the risks and potential costs of not having proper policies and procedures in place and/or failing to comply with them are high.
So what can you do to protect yourself from the risks of employment tribunals?
At the very least, ensure there is someone within your organisation who has overall responsibility for overseeing personnel management. This person needs to be fully aware of the rules and regulations and keep abreast of changes in the law.
The next most important requirement is to make sure all the necessary processes, procedures and documents are in place. A good starting point is an employee handbook which provides a framework for detailing a business’s policies and procedures as they relate to the employees. As long as the employee handbook (and any subsequent amendments to it) has been communicated to the employees, it will ensure every employee understands their obligations, as well as those of the employer.
An employment contract will also help outline the terms and conditions of employment, including hours and place of work, salary and duties. This, together with a detailed job description, will ensure that employees have a clear understanding of their role, responsibilities and obligations, and help avoid future disputes.
If, however, despite best efforts, there is a break-down in relations between an employer and employee, having a formal disciplinary process or grievance procedure in place, and adhering to it, will help minimise the risk of a claim being made at an employment tribunal. If a dispute cannot be resolved satisfactorily through the disciplinary or grievance procedure, a compromise agreement could be the answer (depending on the circumstances).
Although daunting at first sight, complying with employment law needn’t be too onerous for small businesses, as long as they understand what is required and have easy and affordable access to the right resources and advice.
Partnering with Epoq, Intuit is now offering its payroll customers an Intuit version of Epoq’s MyLawyer service, an innovative online solution that helps small businesses create legal documents for themselves at a fraction of the cost of a high street solicitor.