Although some may feel they are stuck in a workhouse, the advent of workers’ rights has meant that we don’t have to endure Dickensian conditions in the workplace. The days of Ebenezer Scrooge are long over, and employers are wise to the benefits of benefits. This is a simple guide to some statutory rights that you need to offer to those you employ.
Rights at work are governed by a contract of employment and statutory rights (which you have by law). Your contract cannot take away from your statutory rights, but contractual terms can better the legal ones. So, paperwork is important – employees are entitled to a contract, clearly stating the terms of employment. Another right is to receive an itemised pay slip which should be at least legal minimum wage, and not subject to any illegal deductions.
The European Working Time Directive limits workers to a maximum of 48 hours per week. Employees are also entitled to regular rest breaks on a daily and weekly basis. As an employer you also have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment, and this can mean anything from general health and safety concerns of the premises, to equipment and an employee’s desk set-up. Remember: the term “back-breaking work” is supposed to be hyperbole, and not taken literally.
Your employees are also entitled to time off, for a variety of different reasons – not just a well-earned holiday in the sun. In addition to offering basic holiday pay, there’s also leave entitlement for anti-natal care, maternity leave, paternity leave, sick leave and provision for unpaid parental leave to assist relatives in need. Rules governing these can be complex, so it’s best to do your research and seek advice if necessary. If you’re employing young people between 16 and 17 then you’re also legally bound to offer them time off for study leave. In addition, be aware that you need to have serious discussions about flexible working when asked, so it’s a good idea to be open-minded about issues such as working from home and flexibility of hours.
Employees have the right not to be discriminated against. Leave your prejudices at the door and treat all your employees fairly regardless of gender, age, sexuality, taste in music, etc..
Sadly, there may be times when everything goes pear-shaped and you have to consider dismissal, or redundancy for your staff. Employees are entitled to written notice of dismissal with clear reasons outlined. Dependent on length of service, employees will also be entitled redundancy pay to compensate them for loss of employment. You also need to support these employees with time off to attend interviews while they work out any notice with you.
Part-time workers should have the same rights as full-timers, but a grey area is beginning to emerge with the self-employed. You may have noticed that the gig-economy is hot right now – using self-employed workers on small jobs is a good way for employers to be flexible and cut bills, but there is heated debate about the rights of the gigging self-employed. Companies have been making headlines over test-cases where some self-employed workers have been pushing for rights on a par with other employees. It’s not just last night cabs and takeaways that are affected, there’s also a vast army of freelancers taking advantage of this new economy to offer their services, from graphic designers to plumbers. Stories of this kind are breaking on a regular basis, so keep up to date with judgments and their implications by regularly reading the business news. The Guardian’s work blog has covered this issue extensively.
If you’re planning to be an employer, you’ll find there are plenty of government and legal websites that will go into the finer details of employee rights, such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and Gov.uk. It’s also worth keeping abreast of any changing legislation.
Employees’ rights are something that you can’t afford to get wrong and should be taken seriously. If you choose to shun these rights then you’re not only going to be a lousy boss, but also breaking the law. However, if you stick to the statutory rules, and treat your employees how you’d like to be treated yourself, then you’ll be in charge of a productive and contented workforce.