All employers have legal rights and duties in relation to the way they run their business, but these are balanced alongside the legal rights of their employees. Each can expect their rights to be upheld, but the reality is – it’s a two-way thing and where the rights of an employer and employee collide, a dispute can arise.
What fundamental rights do employers enjoy?
Employers have the right to appoint their workers according to their specific commercial needs. However, this is not an unfettered right and they must comply with proper procedures and avoid unlawful discrimination. In exceptional cases, employers have the right to positively discriminate when recruiting, for example, a theatre company may require a female actor for a specifically female role, or a police force may decide to actively recruit more employees from ethnic minorities.
Organisations also have the right to dismiss employees who seriously breach their contractual requirements, to summarily dismiss for gross misconduct or to dismiss employees who have become surplus to business requirements. However, the right to dismiss must be exercised in compliance with lawful procedures to avoid potential claims for unlawful dismissal.
Employers also have the right to protect their business from trade secrets and intellectual property being exposed by employees and former employees. Therefore, they can lawfully impose restrictions and conditions in employment contracts, and in settlement agreements when employees leave. The aim is to prevent or restrict the individual from sharing trade secrets with competitors or, for example, from setting up their own business within a specified geographical area. However, any such restrictions must be reasonable otherwise they will not be legally enforceable.
What fundamental rights do employees enjoy?
Employees have the right to be treated fairly and in a non-discriminatory way. The law, therefore, allows employees to take formal action if they feel they have been unfairly treated or subjected to unlawful discrimination in the workplace.
They can also expect to be able to work in a safe workplace. A raft of health and safety laws and other legislation requires businesses to ensure their workers can carry out their duties in a safe environment free from foreseeable risks to their physical and mental health. This means employees can expect their employer to make appropriate changes if a risk to their health arises.
Employees have minimum legal rights in relation to pay and leave, so long as relevant service requirements are met, including:
- the right to be paid a national living wage (£7.70 per hour if you are between 21 and 24 years old; and £8.21 per hour if you are 25 or older);
- the right to 28 days’ paid annual leave if employed full time, with the amount for a part-time worker calculated on a pro rata basis;
- the right to statutory sick pay (currently £92.05 per week) if you have been off sick for at least four consecutive days;
- rights to statutory paternity or maternity leave, and shared parental leave if you have children;
- the right to paid time off for antenatal care or to attend adoption appointments; and
- the right to unpaid time off to care for dependents in an emergency.
Employees also have the right to request flexible working, though this does not mean your employer is obliged to grant your request.
The law is more complex when it comes to issues relating to holiday pay, carrying over holiday entitlement, maximum working hours and appropriate rest breaks. This is because they depend largely on the nature of the employee’s work, so you should consider taking specialist legal advice to ensure your employee rights are protected.
What about my employment contract?
If the terms of your contract of employment are more generous, these take precedence over the above minimum statutory rights.
Most employees are entitled to receive a written statement setting out their main terms and conditions of employment when they start work, so you should be able to easily find out what your specific contractual rights are – including your pay. On the issue of pay, you also have the right under equal opportunities law to be paid the same as others for the same or broadly similar work.
When your rights have been breached
Employers are urged to discuss the issue informally with the employee concerned if a problem arises. If the matter cannot be resolved, the employer may have to consider starting disciplinary proceedings in accordance with proper procedures before it can take further action.
Employees who believe their rights have been breached should try to resolve the matter with their employer. If you cannot reach a resolution, consider lodging a formal grievance – but before taking any further steps it would be wise to take specialist legal advice to protect yourself.
For further information, please contact us on 01732 770660, [email protected] Warners Solicitors has offices in Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, Kent.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.