In the UK, the relationship between employers and employees is governed by UK employment law which mainly takes two forms: common law and statute.
Common Law mainly comes from cases that have been heard by Tribunals, whilst Statutes are what most people consider to be 'employment law' - and that's the legislation that governs the employment rights of employees and obligations of employers.
In simple terms and in the context of employment law, common law is the part of UK law that comes mainly from cases that have been heard by Tribunals, where judges have set out expected customs or legal tests that should be applied under certain circumstances.
The law of contract is a particularly relevant common law because all employees in the UK work under a contract of employment (whether that contract is in writing or not).
Common law is law derived from custom and judicial precedent, rather than from statute (there’s more on statute below).
In contrast to common law, a Statute is a piece of legislation made by UK Parliament, having passed through the House of Commons, the House of Lords and then having received “Royal Assent”.
In more simple terms, and in the context of employment law, statute is a written law passed by UK Parliament that governs the employment rights of employees and obligations of employers.
Some of the primary statutes that govern employment law in the UK are:
Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA)
The Employment Rights Act 1996 is front and centre when it comes to governing the employment relationship.
It sets out an employee’s entitlement to a written statement of employment (as well as setting out the criteria for what must be included in that statement), the right to receive the National Minimum Wage, Statutory Sick Pay Rights, the procedures for Unfair Dismissal (including the right for an employee to receive written reasons for their dismissal), rights concerning maternity, paternity and flexible working… and the list goes on.
In summary – it’s very important!
Equality Act 2010 (EqA)
The Equality Act 2010 establishes the nine protected characteristics that it is unlawful to discriminate against, as well as setting out the different types of discrimination that can occur in certain circumstances.
For example, it contains the definitions and the legal tests to be met for claims of direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and victimisation. The nine protected characteristics are:
- Religion of belief
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Sexual Orientation
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Gender reassignment
Working Time Regulations 1998 (WTR)
The Working Time Regulations 1998 implement a piece of European legislation. Unsurprisingly, this statute governs the amount of time employees spend working, including setting limits on the maximum number of hours an employee can work and on night work, as well as setting out rules for rest breaks, time off from work and holidays.
Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSAW)
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is front and centre when it comes to health and safety at work, and it is slightly different from other statutes, in that it’s primarily enforced by the Health and Safety Executive.
It sets out rules and standards for employers in relationship to the occupational health and safety of their employees.
Its core purpose is to ensure that employees have a safe place of work, have safe equipment to perform their role, are properly trained, have proper facilities and that appropriate risk assessments are carried out by employers.
National Minimum Wage Act 1998 (NMW)
The National Minimum Wage Act 1998 seeks to ensure that all workers in the UK are paid a fair wage for their work, and (with a few technical exceptions) applies to all employees that are at least school leaving age.
It sets out the relevant minimum hourly pay rate for those eligible to receive the national minimum wage, as well as setting out the relevant minimum hourly pay rate for those engaged by employers as apprentices.
This statute, and the minimum rates of pay contained within it, is updated annually in April.
Employment law changes frequently and it can be difficult to keep up with the latest case law and legislation. We’ve only touched the surface of key legislation and big changes are on the horizon as a consequence of changing governments, Brexit and the end of retained EU law.
But that’s one of the reasons we’re here – as part of our employment & HR service, we keep you up to date with latest changes, keeping your contracts and policies compliant whilst up-skilling your managers to give them the confidence to manage your people and workplace compliance.
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