Employment Law

Shutterstock 115212217 Employment law governs and regulates the welfare of all workers, employees and employers through legislation covering areas including but not restricted to dismissal, unfair dismissal, sickness leave, discrimination and equal pay.

UK employment law is relatively complex, but this article will give a basic overview in order to provide a general understanding of the key areas. More specific information and employment law advice can be found in other articles on this site, all of which can be accessed from this page.

Employment rights

The rights afforded by employment laws in the UK depend on an individual's status as an employee, a worker, or self-employed.

Employees are those working under a contract of employment. Of the three, they are offered the most rights, including the right to maternity/paternity leave and statutory redundancy pay, as well as all of the core rights offered to workers.

The definition of a worker is broad but roughly, it is anyone who provides services personally to an employer. They are offered core rights, such as the right to not be unfairly dismissed, the right to minimum wage, and holiday pay.

The self-employed are offered the fewest rights, and no restrictions with regard to pay or holiday, for the simple reason that they are their own employer.

Statutory rights

Offered to all employees and most workers, statutory rights cover areas such as:

National Minimum Wage, currently set at: 

  • £2.68 per hour for apprentices 
  • £3.72 per hour for anyone aged under 18 
  • £5.03 per hour for anyone aged between 18-20 
  • £6.31 per hour for anyone aged 21 and over 

Paid Holiday: All employees are entitled to a minimum of 28 days paid holiday per annum. Employees are also entitled to regular rest breaks, both daily and weekly.

Sick Leave: If an employee is sick for 4 days or more, then they will, at the very least, be entitled to statutory sick pay, at a level of £85.85 per week. Note that an employer may have in place a company sick pay scheme, offering more than the statutory amount.

Discrimination: Employees all have the right to not be discriminated against, and to claim for compensation in the case that they are. This includes discrimination of any kind, such as age, race and gender.

Dismissal, this includes:

  • The right to a period of notice before being dismissed. Note that an employer may offer payment in lieu of notice, and this may or may not be set out as a clause in the initial contract of employment.
  • The right to be protected from unfair dismissal, and to claim for compensation if unfairly dismissed.

Contract of employment

All employees are entitled to receive written confirmation of all of the terms and conditions of their employment, and a contract which can be written or verbal, within two months of beginning employment.

This contract is a legally binding document and contains details of all the specifics of the employee's conditions of work. This will include the statutory rights, as well as any other benefits or rights awarded at the employer's discretion.

These specifics will also include the employee's salary, as well as details of any company sick pay schemes, amount of paid holiday offered, and the notice period (and, if relevant, a Payment in Lieu of Notice (PILON) clause). 

The contract should also detail the company's redundancy scheme. There is a set method of calculation used to work out the legal minimum for redundancy pay, though often employers will have in place a scheme offering over and above this legal minimum.

Finally, the contract of employment should state the company's disciplinary and grievance procedure.

Disciplinary action and grievances

All companies and businesses should have in place disciplinary and grievance procedures, detailing the appropriate course of action in either case. This also applies to dismissal.

Correct procedure must be followed at all times, and if not the employee has reason to take the employer to an employment tribunal and put forward their case there.

Grievances are complaints or concerns raised by the employee with regard to, for example, unfair pay or an apparent breach of contract by the employer. Grievances must be raised officially, and should be done following the General Code of Practice set out by the Arbitration and Conciliation Advisory Service (ACAS).

Disciplinary action is action taken by an employer, in response to an employee's apparent misconduct of some sort. As with grievances and dismissals, correct procedure must be followed strictly throughout. While the disciplinary procedure is going on, the employee in question may be suspended, but will still receive full pay and retain their rights during this period. 

Employment tribunals

The first port of call for any dispute in the workplace should be an attempt at internal resolution but if this fails then the case may be brought to an employment tribunal. 

The tribunal acts like a small court, presided over by a panel of three who, if ruling in favour of an aggrieved employee, will award compensation of some form relevant to the case in question. This may be monetary compensation or, in cases of unfair dismissal for example, may lead to the ex-employee being reinstated in either their original position, or an alternative position, with the same employer.

In taking a case to a tribunal, the employee has the right to be accompanied by an employment law solicitor, who may advise them on their case. Taking a case to an employment tribunal is free, but hiring a solicitor will cost extra.

More employment law advice, as well as information on employment law solicitors can be found on our website, as well as the www.gov.uk.

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