What are employer’s rights and responsibilities in the UK?

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In the UK, employers have a range of legal responsibilities towards their employees. This is as it should be: work is central to most people’s lives. They spend a significant amount of their lives at work and employment is vital for most workers. Earning an honest living should not mean exposure to unnecessary risks or unfair treatment.

Employers are required to ensure their business follows the law and regulations applicable to their sector and employees. The details will vary according to the types of jobs and the associated employment contracts but the fundamental requirement is for fair treatment and a safe environment in which to work.

Legally defined employer responsibilities extend to such fundamentals of everyday  working life as:

  • Working hours 
  • Employment contracts
  • Pay
  • Holidays
  • Behaviour

Of course, expectations go both ways. Employer rights and responsibilities are bound together in UK legislation. In return for employment, employer rights within the UK include having assigned work properly carried out, with all employees following their training and respecting the rights and safety of their colleagues.

Important considerations for retailers

If you are a retail business, it may be tempting to give certain employer responsibilities a lower priority. Unlike factory or fleet operators, for example, smaller numbers of retail employees work in overtly hazardous environments. But a balanced approach is what counts. People can still be injured in the most routine of office environments, so health and safety considerations still matter.

Perhaps the most hazardous retail environment is warehousing - forklift trucks, high shelves and heavy boxes make for a potentially dangerous combination: so proper training and rigorously maintained (and enforced) safety procedures will be essential for employees who work in such environments.

Online retail fundamentally differs from conventional bricks and mortar operations. There is a greater amount of warehouse work and an ongoing pressure to pack, dispatch and deliver items quickly. These pressures can encourage employees to cut corners - increasing the chance of employment legislation being breached. This risk requires careful management. 

Statutory rights of employees

Under current legislation, employees have the statutory right to employment conditions that meet the following minimums:

  • Pay equal to at least the national minimum wage.
  • A clean and safe working environment, with basic amenities such as water and first aid supplies, as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) wherever appropriate.
  • A clear payslip setting out the amounts earned and applicable deductions.
  • A maximum working week of 48 hours, unless a written agreement between the employer and the employees is made in advance).
  • Paid holidays - 5.6 weeks. This applies to both employees and workers (so includes agency workers and workers with irregular hours). Part-time employees receive a pro rata entitlement. 
  • A rest break of at least 20 minutes as long as they work a minimum of six hours, daily rest of 11 hours between working days and weekly rest of 24 hours without work each week (or 48 hours each fortnight).
  • Statutory sick pay for eligible workers.
  • Statutory redundancy pay for eligible workers (they need at least 2 years' service to qualify).
  • Statutory parental leave and pay for eligible workers - i.e. maternity, paternity, adoptive and shared (where the parents divide the leave to which they are entitled between them). 
  • A minimum of one week’s notice of dismissal for employees who have been with the company for between one month and two years. Employees who have worked for more than two years are entitled to one weeks’ notice for each year of employment.

Employer health and safety responsibilities 

English and Welsh law imposes a clear duty on retail and other employers to protect the health and safety of their workers.

In practice, this includes:

  • Regular workplace risk assessments.
  • Proactive management of any identified risks.
  • Clear communications with your employees about identified risks and the efforts you are making to mitigate them, alongside consultation where appropriate.
  • Employee training on ways to manage and mitigate risks.

Discrimination employer responsibilities

The law on discrimination in the workplace is stringent. The Equality Act 2010 defines the following identity characteristics as protected:

  • Sex
  • Race - a category that includes both nationality and ethnic background
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment/identity
  • Marital status
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion or belief
  • Age

Retail and other employers have a duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment or discrimination of their employers on the basis of the above characteristics – if they fail to do so employers can be liable for the discriminatory acts of other employees.

Perception counts in discrimination claims - i.e. it does not matter if a particular employee is not actually gay: discrimination or harassment on the basis of a mistaken belief that they are is still discrimination. The right to protection from discrimination also extends beyond people with the protected characteristic to anyone who associates (i.e. aids or supports) them.

Pay, benefits and pension responsibilities

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, retailers and other employers have of range of financial responsibilities toward their employees.

They must:

  • As mentioned above, provide a properly itemised payslip.
  • Provide all payments required by law (statutory payments) - for example, maternity pay.
  • Cover the paid holiday entitlement of employees.
  • Make legally required deductions from the salaries of employers working on a ‘pay as you earn’ (PAYE) basis. These usually include income tax, national insurance, pension payments, and (where applicable) student loans repayments.

Foot Anstey services

The Foot Anstey team of business experts advise companies on legal issues across multiple sectors, with retail being a particular specialism. Reliable employment and human resources advice can be invaluable, enabling retailers to stay on top of changing government regulations and ensure full compliance minimising your manager's valuable time.

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