Employment laws are there to protect employees from being taken advantage of and to ensure they’re working in safe conditions for a fair wage. In the UK, employers need to adhere to a range of different employment laws, ensuring that all employees are safe and protected in the workplace every day.
What Does Employment Law Cover?
In the UK, employment laws have been in place since 1833, and the first employment law was the Abolition of the Slavery Act and The Factory Act in the same year. Since then, employment law has frequently changed to account for modern working and changes within industries to ensure employees are treated fairly for their labour.
Employment law covers a range of different topics that all fall under the one umbrella, and some of the other laws include;
- Master and Servant Act 1823
- Slavery Abolition Act 1833
- Trade Union Act 1871
- The Old Age Pension Act 1908
- Contracts of Employment Act 1963
- Race Relations Act 1965
- Equal Pay Act 1970
- Sex Discrimination Act 1975
- Disability Discrimination Act 1995
- Protection from Harassment Act 1997
- National Minimum Wage Act 1998
- Maternity and Paternity Leave Regulations 1999
- Modern Slavery Act 2015
These laws help to shape the working environment today and help employees know the law around what their employers need to have in place when they have employees working for them. It also means they understand what their personal responsibilities are within their employment and what to expect their employers to adhere to at all times.
However, just because these laws are already in place for employers to adhere to, it doesn’t mean that the world of employment is not subject to any changes to account for new situations that arise and occur within the workplace.
Let’s take a closer look at some hot topics in the world of employment and what this looks like to employees and employers going forward.
Flexible working has been getting a lot of press lately, partly thanks to the unprecedented shift to remote working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The way the country adapted so quickly posed the question, do employees need to be in the office working a 9-5 job when it turns out the majority of people can do it well enough from any location? Remote working is a hot topic, with employers and employees engaging in talks and practising what was learnt during 2020/21. In fact, more people than ever are pushing back against heading into the office full-time once again after proving they could do their job just as well, if not better, from home or a remote location.
But aside from remote working, flexible working means allowing employees to ask for and be seriously considered for flexible working patterns for their duties. Many businesses have taken the initiative to reduce the working week to four days from five to help lower workplace stress and improve the home-work life balance; however, in some cases, this is leading to a loss of wages for employees, leaving them on the back foot.
A proposed bill titled Employee Relations (Flexible Working) Act means that;
- Employees have the right to request flexible working from day one
- Employers have to consult with employees before declining a flexible working request.
- Employees are permitted to make two requests in a 12-month period.
- Employers have to respond within two months (not three).
- Employees do not have to provide anticipated effects or suggestions.
While the act does not have a date for being passed into law, it is essential that employers and employees know their rights surrounding flexible working and what is and isn’t covered under this law to ensure everyone is acting accordingly. Employment solicitors can help you if your employer isn’t seriously considering your request or is ignoring your efforts to discuss flexible working and its suitability for the company and your job role. Take it to an Employment Tribunal if required.
Neurodiversity is becoming a topic that is seen more and more frequently in employment tribunals across the country. Neurodiverse people often face many struggles in life, which can impact their ability to get to work on time, meet deadlines or even follow instructions.
A recent case saw a terminated security guard in a tribunal against his employers as he had dyslexia and autism, which made it hard for him to read his alarm clock and be organised. Upon interview, his employers were informed of these factors, and he was given the job. However, a few weeks in, he was terminated for being frequently late. He won his case, and it was ruled that the employer should have made more accommodations to account for these difficulties and put a more flexible working pattern in place.
In cases where the employer is unaware of the issues, likely there wouldn’t have been a case. Still, here they were aware of the problem, and this sets a precedent that employers need to be more careful when employing people who are neurodiverse so everything is put in writing and accommodations are made to support their ability to work, not just fail.
Double jobbing isn’t new; it’s something many people worldwide have done and continue to do now. Sometimes, especially now in the challenging economic climate, making ends meet from wages isn’t possible, and as such, people need to take on additional employment. But where lies the issue?
Employers need to check over their contracts carefully and stipulate any clauses relating to double jobbing if this can seriously affect their day job. A survey by Monster found that 36% of participants were already holding down a full-time second job on top of their primary employment, and 56% thought they could hold another permanent full-time position without their employer knowing.
So, do you need to monitor employees to reduce this happening? Or do employees have the right to work as many jobs as they need to so they can stay afloat?
Legally, you cannot stop an employee from taking out a second job; however, you can add clauses to their contract for non-compete, confidentiality, non-solicitation and reporting a second job to restrict what jobs they take in addition to your employment.
This allows you to have greater control over their ability to perform their job role for you. Suppose your employee works in a warehouse 9-5, full time, driving a forklift, Monday to Friday. They also take on additional employment on evenings and weekends, which almost doubles their working week. If they come into work on a Monday after a long day shift on a Sunday, are visibly tired and have an accident while driving the forklift for you, who is responsible here? You or the employee? Ultimately, having clauses and stipulations for terms of employment locked down in a signed contract can reduce the chance of this.
It pays to be aware of any employee’s second job or activities outside of work on a regular basis if it is likely to affect their performance for you and cause any security or health and safety concerns within your company.
Sexual Misconduct and Harassment
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is already in place, but that doesn’t mean it is always followed or people are aware of what is classified as harassment or sexual misconduct.
Both of these issues have been rife for many years, with women being three times more likely to experience sexual misconduct or harassment in the workplace than men. However, a 2020 Harassment Survey for the Government found that 30% of women and 27% of men are likely to experience workplace harassment.
Eliminating sexual harassment needs to be a clear line, not a behaviour that is acceptable for some but not for others. It should not be condoned for the safety and security of all employees from any source.
The definition of sexual harassment as per section 26 of the Equality Act 2010 is;
“Sexual harassment is defined as “unwanted conduct specifically of a sexual nature or related to gender reassignment and has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the complainant or violating his or her dignity.”
Employers need to take swift and decisive action to address any complaints or instances they become aware of and conduct a thorough investigation with a satisfactory outcome.
Employment laws are always subject to review, and as new issues come to light, so too do gaps in current rules and the need for new regulations to be brought in to protect employees. It pays for both employers and employees to know their rights regarding a safe and healthy working environment and what each party’s responsibilities pertain to their employment.
For employers, a good HR team can help stay on top of policy changes, work with employees and support the workplace positively to embrace differences and oversee procedures and compliance. For employees, knowing what they’re entitled to and, more importantly, what their employers cannot ask of them or treat them can help them put boundaries in the palace without fear of retribution or discrimination due to these limitations.
If at any time both employers or employees need to seek legal action, it should be encouraged to help resolve the complaint and work towards a more harmonious and beneficial relationship in the future.