Employment law for business owners

Employment law is a complex area. Frequent changes and amendments make it hard for busy business owners to keep abreast of their responsibilities. However, ignorance is no defence if you fall foul of employment legislation and it can have disastrous consequences.

Stewart Masterton from Business Link for London sheds some light on the common pitfalls for employers.

Recruitment: It is imperative as an employer to never let prejudice affect your decisions. Discrimination on any number of grounds (sex, age, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation) is illegal and can result in legal proceedings being taken against you or your company. Focus on what skills are needed to fulfil the job and if someone does not fit the required criteria it is acceptable to reject them accordingly. It’s essential, however, to keep all records of your recruitment process, as it’s now possible for an interviewee to ask to view these by law.

Hours, leave and pay: You must comply with statutory requirements on working hours and leave. Most employees are entitled to work a maximum of a 48-hour week, although you can offer an opt-out clause.

Under the Working Time Directive an employee’s annual leave entitlement is 20 days, which may include public holidays. However, while employers are not obliged to, it’s become common practice to grant employees the eight UK public holidays in addition. There are also detailed regulations surrounding minimum rest periods.

Maternity leave, paternity leave, adoption leave, parental leave and leave for family reasons must all be included in any employee contract. Pregnant woman and new mothers have a number of special rights and entitlements, including paid time-off for ante-natal care, 26 statutory weeks maternity leave, the right to increase this to one year dependent on length of service and a guaranteed right to return to work. Visit www.businesslink4london.com for more information on maternity leave.

Employee Rights: Employees have statutory rights that the contract cannot override. For example, they have the right to a certain degree of privacy, to belong to a trade union, and most employees are entitled to keep their jobs even if the business changes hands.

Discrimination: Although already discussed with regards to recruitment, indiscreet discrimination is also susceptible to legal proceedings. This occurs when an employer imposes a provision, criteria or practice that members of one sex or race will find harder to comply with than others. Under employment legislation this cannot be implied and cannot be justified.

However, as an employer you are also responsible for any discrimination occurring amongst your employees. You must take any allegations of discrimination seriously and ensure a proper investigation occurs.

Disciplinary issues: Firstly, make sure you have disciplinarily procedures in place according to statutory requirements. Make sure your employees are aware of what constitutes disciplinarily action and that all rules are applied consistently.

If you need to dismiss an employee you may have to prove that you had a good cause and acted reasonably. If not, unlawful dismissal could see you end up in a legal tribunal. Employees have the right to appeal against a dismissal if they feel it was unfair, so it is imperative that you document all correspondence and action related to the dismissal.

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of smallbusiness.co.uk) before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the...

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