Employment law is an area that is constantly changing and full of potential pitfalls. In order to get it right you need to keep up to date with new developments, research and plan your policies, and then implement them with care. Getting it wrong can be very expensive resulting in thousands of pounds lost in man hours and potential settlements.
Over recent years the law has given employees rights and entitlements in relation to virtually every aspect of how they are treated at work. These include how they are disciplined and dismissed, how their grievances are handled, wages, absence from work and sickness, holidays, time off for family emergencies, maternity and paternity leave, the right to apply for flexible working, redundancy and retirement.
All workers are vigorously protected against discrimination in relation to their sex, race, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion and beliefs. Employees who feel they have been denied their rights can retaliate by taking their employers to an Employment Tribunal. The chances of this happening have increased enormously; applications for Tribunals have tripled over the last decade and in 2007-08 claims went up 30 per cent over the previous year and continue to do so.
An employer who loses an unfair dismissal case can be ordered to pay up to £72,900 in compensation. With regards to discrimination cases, awards are theoretically unlimited, and six figure payouts are not uncommon.
Employment law and regulating what happens in the workplace is one of the fastest changing areas of law. For example, the unfair dismissal jurisdiction of Employment Tribunals has been extended to everyone who has been continuously employed for twelve months by the same employer.
The past decade has also seen the arrival of:
- National Minimum Wage – 1998
- Human Rights Act – 1998
- Working Time Regulations – 1998
- Tribunal compensation quadrupled – 1999
- Time off for dependant's emergencies – 1999
- Equality for part time workers – 2000
- Paternity, adoption and parental leave – 2002
- Protection for fixed term employees – 2002
- Discrimination on religious beliefs outlawed – 2003
- Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation outlawed – 2003
- Trade Union Recognition – 2004
- Statutory & Disciplinary Grievance procedures compulsory – 2004
- Flexible working rights – 2005
- New TUPE rules – 2006 (Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment)
- Age Discrimination and the right to apply to work beyond 65 – 2006
- Maternity leave up to 52 weeks and SMP 39 weeks – 2007
- Holiday entitlement increased by 20 per cent – 2007/09
It is down to the employer to keep up to date with new developments and implement procedures and practices as necessary.
Where to find more information
Business Link is a free business advice and support service which is available online and through local advisers. Simply go to the Business Link website
and click on the 'Employing People' tab in the left hand menu and you can gain free up to date information, which covers all aspects of employment law. Here you will find information covering taking on staff, pay and pensions, managing your staff, improving staff performance and problems and incidents. There are also some invaluable tools that allow you to create a written statement of employment, highlight your legal responsibilities when taking on a new employee, assess your employment practices, work out employees' annual leave entitlement, create your own personal development plan and much more.
You can also sign up for the free e-mail alerts that will automatically keep you informed of any change in the law.