Employment Law – What You Need to Know

Employment law covers issues such as pay, working hours and holidays. It also ensures that employers do not discriminate against their employees and give them fair notice before dismissal.


It also establishes the freedom of association and collective bargaining. In addition, it prevents blacklisting of trade union members and related activities.

Trade Unions

Trade Unions are legally recognised bodies with a mandate to negotiate terms and conditions of employment on behalf of their members. They play a vital role in protecting workers’ rights and influencing workplace regulations and policy-making at national level. However, their activities can also lead to industrial action such as strikes and management lockouts.

Once an organisation decides to recognise a union, both parties must agree on how negotiations will work, for example the arrangements for deduction of union subscriptions from wages, who is to represent workers and how often meetings will take place. Agreements between employers and unions on changes to the terms applying to workers (like a pay increase) are known as collective agreements and are often set out in a contract of employment.

Employers must also ensure that they are meeting their obligations to bargain in good faith, and there are objective criteria that the NLRB will review to determine whether or not this is being done. For example, it is illegal to ask employees questions about their union sympathies or to encourage them to support the union; and to transfer, lay off, discipline, or terminate employees for engaging in protected concerted activity or filing unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB. Offering benefits to discourage union support is also prohibited. A local labour attorney can assess your situation and advise you on the best course of action.

Agency Workers

Agency workers are used by businesses on a temporary basis either to act as cover or to deal with fluctuations in work. The Agency Workers Regulations introduced significant protections for these workers (often referred to as ‘temps’). The Regulations require the employment business to give an agency worker the same basic working and employment conditions as would be enjoyed by someone recruited directly by the hirer to do the same or broadly similar work. The test for this is whether or not the agency worker is paid on the same terms as a comparator employee and, if so, the agencies must be prepared to supply this information to the hirer. Sick pay and maternity/paternity leave do not need to be matched but access to collective facilities and amenities – for example, canteens, workplace creche, gyms, transport (local pick up and drop offs or between sites but not company car allowances or season ticket loans) – must be equal unless less favourable treatment can be objectively justified.

By law, the agency must also provide a written statement setting out the terms on which the agency will place the worker for the particular assignment. This must be provided straight away when the agency is offered the assignment, or within 3 days if it was told about the assignment verbally. The agency must also not charge a fee to the worker for registration or for finding assignments.

The Employment Rights Act (ERA) 1996

The Employment Rights Act of 1996 brought together many strands of employment law and still remains the main body of labour legislation. Essentially, it enshrines many of the employment contract basics that were established in earlier statutory regulations and also further extends personal employment rights.

One of the most important clauses is s.94 which enables employees to claim unfair dismissal. In order to be valid, the employer must state a reason for their dismissal that “relates to the capability of the employee for performing the work in question.”

This section also prevents employers from discriminating on the basis of race, colour, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), national origin, age, and disability. Employers are forbidden from discriminating when choosing which workers to lay off, unless doing so is necessary for business reasons.

It also lays down a minimum period of notice when employment ends, at present 1 week but increasing to 2 weeks after 2 years of service, as well as guaranteed payments when laid off under the redundancy scheme and information on calculating weekly earnings including for the purposes of statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay. Parts IV and V of the Act go over disclosures and detriments and include protection against detriment for disclosing information to the public benefit such as criminal offences, failures by the company to abide by legal obligations, miscarriages of justice or environmental damage.

The Working Time Regulations (WTR) 1998

The Working Time Regulations are a set of laws that limit the number of hours employees can work. They also give employees the right to rest breaks and paid holidays.

The regulations cover both full-time and part-time workers. They include provisions such as 28 days of holiday, 20 minute breaks for shifts lasting over 6 hours, and a maximum weekly working time of 48 hours. These are minimum standards, and an employee’s individual contract or agreement with a trade union can improve upon them.

However, employers must still comply with the regulations unless they have a reasonable excuse. This includes things such as health and safety concerns, financial constraints, or a legal obligation to provide particular goods or services. In addition, the law states that if an employee is entitled to a rest period, break or leave both under these rules and another provision (including a contractual term), they must take advantage of whichever is the more favourable.

While it may seem like a simple thing to do, the reality is that the WTR can have a big impact on a business. This is particularly true for businesses with a high turnover of staff. If employees are constantly changing shifts, or if they work in two different jobs, it can mean that they are not getting enough rest, and it can be difficult to ensure they are getting the required paid annual leave.