UK Employment Laws Explained

There are approximately 4 million limited companies in the UK, employing up to 21 million full-time employees. UK employment laws are in place to make sure that both employers and employees are protected. Providing legislation on dismissal, holidays, pay, discrimination and more, these laws are in place to protects worker’s rights while also safeguarding an employer’s interests and keeping the relationship between the two fair.

Gavel and weights

What is employment law?

At first glance, employment law can appear complex and varied, especially for business owners who need to get to grips with UK employment legislation while still running and growing their day-to-day business.

Ultimately, employment laws (of which there are many) are there to protect businesses, outline what their obligations are toward their employees and what protections they have as business owners. They keep the employment relationship fair to both parties.

So, for example, UK employment laws safeguard organisations because they set out guidelines for what to include in a contract – such as holiday entitlement, disciplinary rules and formal notice periods. Contracts protect employers because they clarity and a reference point to make sure both employee and employer are singing from the same hymn sheet.

On the other hand, UK employment laws are also there to protect employees, from hiring practices to conduct in the workplace and fair pay. For example, in the UK, businesses must pay the National Minimum Wage based on a staff member’s age, and all staff members over the age of 23 are also entitled to the National Living Wage.

Employees are covered from the moment they apply for a job by the Equality Act 2010, which prohibits discrimination against candidates (and employees) based on their memberships of a set of nine protected characteristics – including gender, race or disability. When a staff member joins the team, they are also protected by Health & Safety laws, set out in the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. These ensure all staff members have the right to a safe working environment.

What does employment law cover?

Employment law is a vast area of the legal system and covers a whole host of topics that are involved in the employment relationship – largely governing processes and policies you can put in place.

Because it’s such a vast range of legislation, producing an exhaustive list of the areas that employment law touches in some way would make for a very long page! But some of the most common areas that you’re likely to come into contact with as a business owner include employment contracts, equal pay, holiday entitlement and pay, working hours, grievance procedures, disciplinary procedures, maternity and paternity leave, different types of discrimination, equality and diversity in the workplace, reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities, the redundancy process and much more.

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What is unfair dismissal?

Dismissal describes the process where is a process where someone in a position of authority within a business ends an individual employee’s employment. Unfair dismissal is when those rules around how to dismiss someone aren’t followed properly. Ultimately, unfair dismissal boils down to either the proper dismissal procedure not being followed or the reason for dismissing someone isn’t reasonable.

UK employment law states that if an employee has two or more years of continuous service with you, they have the right to bring a claim against your business if they believe that they’ve been unfairly dismissed. The kind of issues that would constitute unfair dismissal include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Requesting maternity or paternity leave
  • Whistleblowing
  • Raising Health & Safety issues
  • Being part of a trade union
  • Asserting legal rights (e.g. asking to be paid minimum wage)

When it comes to raising Health & Safety concerns, an employee is protected from day one of their employment.

What is an employment contract?

An employment contract is a written agreement between an employer and an employee, stating the terms and conditions for that individual’s job role. The contract will outline the employee’s basic responsibilities and duties, their working hours, their working environment, and their rights as an employee.

Beyond this, the contract may also state any expectations the company has, for example, overtime guidelines or claims for vehicle mileage. Employees should raise any questions with their employers before signing this contract. Employment contracts are often consulted in legal cases if an employee makes a claim against their employer.

What is discrimination at the workplace?

Discrimination in the workplace concerns the unfair treatment of an employee based on their membership of certain protected characteristics.

The protected characteristics are outlined in the Equality Act 2010 and are:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Gender reassignment
  • Disability
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age

Discriminating against any employee based on any of their protected characteristics is against the law and can result in a discrimination claim against your business. In UK employment law there are generally two types of discrimination: direct and indirect.

Direct discrimination would be actions such as harassment, bullying and abuse, or unfair treatment (such as not promoting someone) solely based on their protected characteristics.

Indirect discrimination largely deals with any policies, rules or procedures your business has in place that may place a particular group of people at a disadvantage because of protected characteristics. A good example of this would be specifying English qualifications as essential on a job description, which would automatically rule out qualified applicants who were educated in other countries.

A list of employment laws in the UK

There are many laws in the UK that govern different elements of how you should do business and behave as an employer. Some of them you’ll be really familiar with because you encounter them on a regular basis, others you may only come into contact with occasionally.

Some of these laws will deal directly with issues relating to equality in the workplace – which are essential to making sure you avoid claims of discrimination, as outlined above. Others are more geared toward making sure your business is run safely and effectively.

Here, we outline some of the major employment laws that affect UK business owners, and a brief overview of what they cover. Think of it as a quick guide to essential employment legislation.

Employment Relations Act 1999

The Employment Relations Act 1999 established a vast number legal rights including (but not limited to) recognition of trade union bodies, the right for an employee to be accompanied in a disciplinary hearing and the right to maternity leave and time of for dependents.

Employment Rights Act 1996

This is a comprehensive act covering all employment rights including contracts, unfair dismissal, parental leave and redundancy, and was introduced as an update to older labour laws in the UK.

Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999

This outlines the rights that new parents have when taking time off work to look after their new baby. By law, employees with children under the age of 18 are allowed to take up to 18 weeks off work unpaid throughout the year to look after their family.

National Minimum Wage Act 1998

By law, UK employers must pay the minimum wage, which varies depending on age and also increases each year. There are some exceptions for employees such as apprentices. Employees over the age of 23 are also legally obliged to receive the National Living Wage.

Part-Time Workers Regulations 2000

This law ensures that any part-time workers you employ receive equal treatment with your full-time members of staff. By law, employers must offer part-time workers ‘comparable treatment’, for example, pro rata holidays.

Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006

TUPE regulations protect employee rights during a business transfer, for example, if a new company has bought out an existing company. If a larger company is taking over a smaller one, this can protect employees who may be concerned about their job security.

What is Health and Safety in the workplace?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a legal responsibility to make sure that they provide a safe working environment. This may include carrying out risk assessments, offering staff training, and providing adequate safety equipment.

Some employers may also be subject to other laws, for example, those working with hazardous substances, or roles that require manual handling.

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What is data protection?

Data protection concerns the access, storage and use of employees’ or customer data. Under the Data Protection Act 2018 (with considerations for General Data Protection Regulations), employers must gain consent for the use and storage of their staff members’ data.

By law, data must be accurate, stored securely and used transparently. This means employers must disclose how they are using employees’ information. Likewise, employees have a ‘right to be forgotten’, which means they can request for their personal details to be deleted after they leave a role.

Some types of data have their own laws, such as sensitive personal information on race, political beliefs or trade union memberships.

Employment Law advice

If you’re looking for Employment Law support, Citation is here to guide you through the difficult compliance processes that protect your business and your people.

Our team comprises either qualified solicitors or commercial HR practitioners with many years of experience. They can be on hand to help you write compliant employment contracts, build workplace policies and employee handbooks as well as being available 24/7 on our advice line, to give you support and guidance should an HR or Employment Law issue ever arise. It’s like having your own HR team on the other end of a phone call.

For more information on how our team of HR & Employment Law /experts can support your business with key insights, guaranteed advice and cutting-edge update in line with legislation, contact the Citation team today.

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