As every media outlet in the UK and beyond has been repeatedly telling us for the past couple of months, we are already in a period of economic recession. As you will also be aware, this means a tough time for businesses small and large. A topic that might not immediately spring to mind when you think of this, however, is that of Employment Law and in particular the risks you are taking if you your employment procedures are not compliant.
For both employees and employers alike, this is an area that needs to be closely inspected in case the recession reaches the low point that it is forecast to reach. Yet it’s not just the consequences of the credit crunch which might lead you to look at Employment Law a little more closely. Over the past 20 years there has been a steady rise in the amount of employees taking their employers to court over decisions that they felt, after seeking legal advice, were not in accordance with Employment Law. This has particularly been the case over the past five years since the introduction of a huge amount of protective employment law and regulations that companies now have to comply with. Although much if it is the codification of simple good practice, there are a number of areas where companies continue to trip up – indeed, it can be a minefield.
It can be a traumatic experience for all parties involved, not to mention for those connected to parties involved, which is why knowledge in this field of law is especially useful. Good advice will reduce any stress and worry involved, so that you can rest assured that your procedures are watertight and potential claims are limited.
There are various reasons as to why an employee might take legal action against his former (or sometimes current) employer. Three of the most frequent reasons include Harassment, Discrimination, and Unfair Dismissal.
Discrimination is a common complaint, particularly since the instigation of the Human Right Acts, and it can take a number of forms. The grounds on which people are discriminated against comprise of anything including:
4. Religious Belief
6. Sexual Orientation
Instances in which it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you on the grounds of these include:
o Refusing to employ or consider you for a job
o Offering you a job on less favourable terms than others
o Refusing to promote or transfer you to another job
o Giving you less favourable benefits than a colleague
o Shortening your working hours
o Dismissing you or making you redundant
There is a huge amount of legislation relating to the different types of discrimination and it is imperative that your company complies rather than facing the consequences of not doing so. If a disabled person was to take legal action against their employer then they would do so upon the basis of the Disability Discrimination Acts of 1995 and 2005, for example. Another illustration of this would be the 1976 Race Relations Act, which makes it unlawful for your employer to discriminate against you on the grounds of your colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins.
Harassment on the grounds of sex, including sexual harassment, is considered to be direct discrimination and is strictly prohibited by law. In broad terms, harassment can occur where: Unwanted conduct on any of the areas covered by the discrimination laws is apparent; an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive atmosphere is created; or the person is the recipient of embarrassing jokes, offensive jokes, pranks, or unwelcome physical or sexual advances.
In addition to Discrimination and Harassment, there is the matter of Unfair Dismissal. If you are an employee and feel your employer has dismissed you unfairly then you might be able to make an unfair dismissal claim to an Employment Tribunal. However, in most instances you will need to have been employed for at least a year to make a claim. The onus is on you as an employee to show you have been dismissed and your employer to show they have a valid reason for dismissing you and acted reasonably in the circumstances. An important thing to note here is that (again, in most instances) a claim must be made within 3 months of the effective date of termination. Nevertheless, this may be extended to 6 months in some situations.
Ultimately, it can only be beneficial to stay abreast of Employment Law to make sure you are treated fairly and treat your employees fairly, and it is important to get professional legal advice on any matter that might lead to legal action. This knowledge, in turn, will reduce any stress on your part, which any employee or employer will admit is a welcome consideration regardless of the economic climate.