When it comes to working, we all have the right to be treated fairly and be as safe as possible. Whether you are working in an office or on the front line, you have a right to protection, and employment law is important to everyone.
What is employment law?
Employment law isn’t just one law or statute, it is, in fact, a set of laws that govern the relationship between an employer and its employees. It ensures that employers are getting what they need from their employees in a fair, safe, equal, and appropriate manner, protecting both parties, outlining what employees can expect from their employers, and vice versa.
The four main areas of employment law are:
- Recruitment – what employers are able to do (and not do) in terms of who they employ and what they do once a person has been employed by them. This can also overlap with discrimination to ensure employers are not discriminating when recruiting new members of staff.
- Pay – ensuring that pay is fair and just, and above the national minimum legal level for the job that is being done.
- Discrimination – Ensuring that discrimination does not occur and that everyone is treated fairly. This is a very wide area of the law and covers various ‘protected characteristics’.
- Health and Safety – Ensuring that employees are safe during their time at work.
Why does employment law exist?
Although we have had guidelines around workers’ rights in the workplace for a long time, employment regulations and laws really started in the UK in 1875. The Master and Servant Act and the Employers and Workmen Act are such examples, and they were really the beginning of an acknowledgement that employees needed to be protected from unscrupulous employers and given rights in their places of work.
We now have many laws in place, including the Employment Rights Act 1996, National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and The Equality Act 2010.
What does employment law cover?
Employment law essentially covers the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees in the workplace. They fit into the four categories above and can cover a wide range of issues, including:
- Discrimination based on age, gender, race, sexuality, disability, or religion
- Bullying, harassment, or abuse
- Employment contracts
- Minimum wage
- Employee grievances and dismissal
- Parental leave
- Working hours including breaks and holiday pay
There are, however, many more aspects to work that employment law covers, ensuring that employee and employer rights are adequately covered, giving both parties protection.
Employment law is always evolving to cover new aspects of work and ensure that you are treated fairly, justly, and safely at all times.
How is it regulated & enforced?
Although it is parliament who make the employment laws in the UK, it is usually the individual employees and trade unions that actually enforce them. Looking into the future there are three aspects to regulating and enforcing employment law – through the setting of regulations by the government, the implementation of the Single Labour Market Enforcement Body, and employment tribunals.
There are a number of government bodies that have responsibilities in regulating different areas of employment law. These include:
- HMRC – regulates tax affairs and enforces payment of the minimum wage
- HSE (Health and Safety Executive) – regulates working time – including maximum working hours per week
- Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority – regulate against modern slavery and the exploitation of labour
- Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner
- Rural Payments Agency – regulates agency workers in shellfish gathering, horticulture, and agriculture as well as their processing and packaging
- Local authorities – regulate low-level health and safety issues
- Pension Regulator – regulates pensions
- EAS (Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate) – regulates employment agency legislation
- Equality and Human Rights Commission – regulates against discrimination and is responsible for gender pay gap reporting
Each of these bodies looks at a specific aspect of employment law and, depending on the grievance that you have, you may need to decide which organisation you will need to consult.
Single labour market enforcement body
The government has been looking into consolidating some of these separate bodies into one employment law regulator and enforcer – the Single Labour Market Enforcement Body. This means that, depending on the issue, there will be just one body that deals with employment law regulations, making the process slicker and easier to deal with.
This does not, however, apply to all of these bodies, meaning that for some cases, the individual regulators will need to be involved. This is still being explored.
Governed by the Employment Tribunals Act 1996 (ETA 1996) and The Employment Tribunals (Constitution and Rules of Procedure) Regulations 2013 (ET Rules 2013), the majority of regulatory issues in employment will be dealt with through Employment Tribunals.
Employment Tribunals list hearings that make a judgement on contractual and statutory claims, commonly issues such as discrimination, unfair dismissal, and redundancy.
In an Employment Tribunal, your case is heard by a tribunal panel. This normally consists of a Judge, someone who represents the employer, and someone who represents the employee. The Judge will then make a decision based on the cases put forward and evidence that they have heard. There are various different awards you can be ordered if you are found successful.
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