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Employment law: the basics

The Equal Pay Act...the Sex Discrimination Act...the Equality Act...the Health and Safety at Work Act...just some of the laws put in place to protect employees over the past few decades.

As an employer, you’ll need to follow these laws if you want to protect yourself and your private practice. You’ll also be expected to keep yourself updated about changes to the law, as well as new laws.

This article will help you to get started by explaining the key issues. We then show you where to go to find out more.

The key legal issues facing employers today...

1. Discrimination

It is illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds of age, race, sex, disability, religion or sexual orientation, at any stage of the recruitment process and while they are your employee. Discrimination can take many forms; it’s not just about the decision you make when you interview someone - it affects the whole term of the employment. It can therefore include issues such as:

  • level of pay
  • benefits and working conditions
  • opportunities for training and development

2. Contracts and written statements

You MUST provide certain terms and conditions of employment in writing within two months of an employee’s start date. Find out more in our article about employment contracts.

3. Hours of work and holiday

The Working Time Directive sets limits on the hours an employee can be asked to work. There is currently a limit of 48 hours per week and a right to at least 5.6 weeks paid leave per year.

4. Minimum pay

The minimum rates of pay (as of 1 October 2012) are:

  • £6.19 for workers aged 21 and over
  • £4.98 for workers aged 18 to 20
  • £3.68 for workers aged 16 to 17
  • £2.65 for apprentices under 19

5. Health and Safety

As an employer, you will need a written health and safety policy. You’ll be expected to carry out a risk assessment, report certain injuries, provide information and training, and to provide first aid facilities.

Tip: let your insurer know that you are employing someone and get advice about HR cover.

6. Other statutory rights

Employees are entitled to many other statutory rights, including (but not limited to):

  • equal pay (whether they are male or female) and an itemised pay statement
  • not to be unfairly dismissed (i.e. they should receive a written reason for dismissal on request, and should be given notice according to the terms set out in the contract)
  • the right to maternity or paternity leave (both paid and/or unpaid)
  • to apply for flexible working (if they have children)
  • time off (unpaid) for an emergency involving a dependant
  • redundancy pay (if they have been an employee for two years or more)
  • statutory sick pay
  • time off for jury service
  • to be treated equally whether they are part-time or full-time

What to do next

There’s no need to feel overwhelmed. The very fact that you’re reading this article shows that you’re serious about being a responsible employer.

This article and others on the Private Practice Hub should give you a good grounding, but there are a number of websites where you can find further information:

Directgov:

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Employment/Employees/index.htm

ACAS:

http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1461

Business Link:

http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/layer?topicId=1073858787&r.s=tl&tc=000SYDG00101