A guide to employment laws all businesses should be aware of

Getting the right people on board can be crucial to the success of your business. Using freelancers and/or agency staff can give you flexibility, but having your own staff gives you both stability and support. Once you start hiring direct employees you take on legal responsibilities towards them. Here is a brief guide to some key points of employment law.

In practice all staff must have a contract if they work for you for a month or more

Theoretically, giving staff a contract is optional, but if an employee’s works for you for a month or more then it is mandatory to provide employees written statement of the main terms and conditions of employment. As legal requirements can and do change, it’s recommended to look up the details of what such a statement must cover when you need to create one.

GDPR applies to staff details as well as customer details

In all honesty, the principles of GDPR are essentially basic respect and common sense. You need to make it clear to your staff what personal details will be collected, for what purpose and how it will be processed. Obviously, you will be required to treat this data with due respect.

An employer may take reasonable steps to protect their business, but no more

Depending on the nature of your business, you may be required to place certain limitations on your staff’s behaviour and in some cases these restrictions may extend outside of their working hours. These restrictions must, however, be legitimate and proportionate according to an employee’s role in the company.

NB: Policies must be communicated and enforced in order to be meaningful. For example, if you have an internet-access policy which bans employees from using social media on work computers, but routinely ignore people doing so, then you may find yourself on very shaky ground if you take action against an employee and are challenged on it.

All employees have the right to request flexible working (different rules apply to NI)

Since 2014, all employees with at least 26 weeks’ service have the right to request flexible working. Employers are required to treat all such requests “reasonably” meaning that they should only refuse if they have a legally-acceptable reason for doing so.

It is illegal to discriminate on protected criteria

The key point to take away here is that it is important to have objective criteria for measuring an individual’s performance right from the recruitment stage to avoid any issues with discrimination, even unintentional discrimination. Employers should be aware that even although a claim for unfair dismissal may only be brought by employees with at least two years’ service, a claim for unlawful discrimination may be brought at any time. After two years, an employee can only be dismissed “with cause” and the onus will be on the employer to show not only that there was cause but that there was no other reasonable course of action than to dismiss the employee. Employers should be aware that, under certain circumstances, an employee who hands in their resignation can claim “constructive dismissal”.

Author Bio
Fletcher Day are experienced employment lawyers in London who specialise in employment law advice, HR services and negotiating settlement agreements.

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