Employment law is a complex area full of pitfalls. Getting it right means keeping in touch with developments, thinking out your policies and implementing them with care. Getting it wrong could be extremely expensive.
Here are some basics to remember:
Do not allow prejudice (conscious or unconscious) to affect your decisions.
A contract of employment exists as soon as a candidate accepts your offer of a job, whether in writing or not.
You must provide a written statement of terms and conditions within the first two months of employment.
You cannot change the terms of the contract unilaterally.
Hours, leave and pay
You must comply with statutory requirements on working hours and leave.
Employees have the right to a minimum wage.
Employer’s National Insurance (NI) contributions are payable on employees’ pay and taxable benefits.
You must deduct your employees’ tax and NI contributions from their wages, and pay them to HM Revenue & Customs under PAYE (Pay As You Earn).
You also have to account for employees’ tax and NI on most benefits in kind.
Employers must not take any action which might undermine the relationship of ‘trust and confidence’ with their employees.
Employers must provide a secure, safe and healthy working environment.
Employees have the right to belong (or not to belong) to a trade union.
Employees are entitled to a reasonable degree of privacy.
Employees are entitled to protection against discrimination.
Employees are entitled to blow the whistle on their employer’s wrongdoings.
Each employee must get a pay statement.
All employees with more than one month’s service are entitled to a notice period.
Most employees are entitled to keep their jobs even if the business changes hands.
Employees are entitled to have discipline and grievance issues dealt with using ‘fair and reasonable’ procedures.
Treating someone less favourably because of their race, sex or gender reassignment, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion, philosophical belief, membership or non-membership of a trade union, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy, maternity, care responsibilities or part-time status is illegal.
Indirect discrimination occurs if you impose a ‘provision, criterion or practice’ that members of one sex or one racial group are much less likely to be able to comply with, and which cannot be objectively justified.
If you treat someone less favourably because of their actions (or potential actions) in connection with discrimination proceedings, it could count as victimisation.
You must be prepared to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable people with disabilities to work.
You are responsible for any discrimination practised by you or your employees.
You must pay statutory sick pay to qualifying workers (including part-time, full-time and agency workers) for up to 28 weeks.
If a worker’s continued or repeated absences are causing problems, you may be able to end their employment.
Have disciplinary and grievance procedures in place which conform to the Acas Code of Practice (www.acas.org.uk).
If you have to dismiss an employee, you may have to prove you had good cause – e.g. gross misconduct or incompetence – and acted fairly and reasonably.
Unlawful dismissal could land you in front of a tribunal.
An employee can claim unfair dismissal if dismissed for an ‘unfair’ reason or if unfair procedures are followed. In general, they must have two years’ service.