Employment Law in the UK

Since October 2012, employers are enrolled into mandatory pension. Business above 50 employees have to declare about trade union support / not. Know more.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: July 11, 2022
  • 5 Minutes
employment law in the UK explained by Papershift

Employment law in the UK is one of the most complicated and talked about topics in the workplace. Understanding the rights in law for both employees and employers is a minefield of problems that needs a light foot to navigate.

This short guide will take you through the key employment law issues in the UK and will look to explain some of the risks to be aware of under UK law, when they might arise, and how they can be handled. 

Let’s begin

What are the main legal issues to be aware of in regard to hiring, firing, and promoting staff?

There are 2 main legal issues that an employer needs to be aware of when recruiting, promoting or making staff redundant. These are:

  • Discrimination
  • Immigration compliance

Discrimination

When recruiting, promoting or dismissing staff, an employer needs to make sure they have in place processes which reduce the risk of discrimination taking place.

It is unlawful to discriminate against an employee, worker or job applicant in relation to the following protected characteristics:

  1. Sex or gender reassignment
  2. Sexual orientation
  3. Maternity leave or pregnancy
  4. Marital or civil partnership status
  5. Disability
  6. Age
  7. Religion or belief
  8. Race

Immigration compliance

Workers who are nationals from the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland are no longer guaranteed to be able to live and work in the UK.

If an employer wishes to employ workers from within or outside of the EEA, they will need to register with UK Visas and Immigration. They will need to satisfy a points-based test before being allowed to work in the UK or be eligible for the skilled workers scheme.

If an employer does employ foreign national workers, they need to make sure they carry out appropriate document checks. Failure to do so could lead to civil and criminal sanctions.

What are the consequences of discrimination?

The right to not be discriminated against is enshrined in law and is not dependent on length of service. If a claimant is successful in their claim of discrimination, compensation is uncapped and they could receive a large pay off. The actual level of compensation awarded will depend on the claimant’s future losses.

How can employers minimise discrimination risks?

There are a few ways that employers can minimise the risk of being accused of discrimination. These include:

  1. Ensure arrangements for interviews (for new positions) and appraisals (for current staff) don’t put certain groups at a particular disadvantage – e.g., they need to provide sufficient disabled access.
  2. Be careful in job adverts and at interview to use language that might discriminate. For example, avoid saying things like “youthful” or “mature” which gives the impression that applicants may be excluded because of their age.
  3. Keep selection criteria objective and ask the same key questions of all candidates no matter their background, including whether they are already an employee of the company.

What does the law say about the contract of employment?

The contract of employment is the main legally binding document between an employer and employee. 

It is legally binding for employers to provide a contract of employment before the employee starts work and, if this is not possible, within at the most two months of the employment start date.

Employers will often include more terms than legally required in their contracts to protect their business, but they must make sure that all terms adhere to the UK legal framework.

For a contract of employment to stay the right side of the law, it needs to meet the following criteria:

Statutory rights

There are certain minimum terms of employment which must be included in any contract of employment. These rights are not dependent on length of service and will override any contractual terms which are less generous. Here is a list of some of the more important statutory rights: 

  1. The right to a national minimum wage. 
  2. The right to holiday entitlement. Full time employees are entitled to at least 28 days’ paid holiday in each holiday year. This is pro-rated for part-time workers. This entitlement can include the eight public holidays.
  3. The right to statutory sick pay. Most employees who are absent from work due to sickness are entitled to be paid a statutory rate of sick pay for up to 28 weeks in any three-year period.
  4. Working time restrictions. These regulations are designed to ensure that employees’ health and safety is protected and that they do not work excessive hours and/or fail to take rest breaks. 
  5. The right to equal pay. Employees have the right to receive equal pay to that received by members of the opposite sex if they are doing equivalent work or work of equal value. 

Family-friendly rights

There are also statutory rights which apply to employees with a family or family commitment. These include:

  • The right to maternity leave
  • The right to statutory maternity pay for 39 weeks
  • The right to two weeks’ paid paternity leave
  • The right to 52 weeks’ adoption leave

What about fixed term and part-time contracts?

When employing fixed-term or part-time workers, employers should not to treat those workers differently to permanent employees. This is set out in law.

What about agency workers?

Temporary agency workers have the right to basic working conditions no less favourable than those to which they would have been entitled had they been recruited directly.

Once a temporary agency worker has been in a role for 12 weeks, they will be entitled to the same level of pay as if they had been recruited directly by the hirer. 

Aren’t pensions now enshrined in law?

From October 2012 onwards, employers are required to:

  • Automatically enrol workers into a pension scheme.
  • Make contributions on their workers’ behalf.
  • Register with the UK Pensions Regulator.

Employers can enrol staff into their own pension schemes, or, if they do not have one, a government-run scheme. 

What about trade unions?

If a trade union has sufficient support within the workplace, it can acquire the right to negotiate collectively with the employer on such issues as pay, hours of work, holidays, health and safety, collective redundancies and business transfers.

Employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide information to their employees about whether or not they recognise a trade union.

What about grievances?

There is a government-produced guide known as the ACAS Code of Practice on Discipline and Grievance which provides practical advice to employers and employees in disciplinary and grievance situations. Whilst this isn’t legally binding, it is important for employers to work within the guidelines to stay the right side of the law.

What about unfair dismissal?

All employees have the right not to be unfairly dismissed as set out in UK law. 

In order for dismissal to be fair, the employer must show there was:

  • A fair reason, such as misconduct or redundancy.
  • That a fair procedure was followed when carrying out the dismissal.

If a dismissal be found to be unfair, an employee is likely to be awarded compensation. 

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In conclusion

Employment law in the UK can be difficult to understand. We hope that with a little help from this guide you now feel a little more enlightened on the subject.



Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)