While delving into employment law can seem complicated, a lot of it is easy to get your head around. The only problem is when HR staff miss out certain elements of it, leaving employees without a valid contract or with a case for unfair dismissal if things go sour.
Companies almost always have to keep hiring in mind. A business might be replacing a member of staff who is leaving, responding to growth or simply investing in the future of the firm so it is prepared for an influx of new work. Whatever the reason, when you take on new employees you need to make sure you do it right.
Most HR staff focus on choosing the right candidate and making sure their introduction to the company goes smoothly, both of which are incredibly important. However, one aspect that can often be forgotten is employment law. Even the best hire of your career can be undone if something about it is not legal.
To help you keep everything above board, here are some of the biggest legal pitfalls you will need to avoid when taking on new staff:
Forgetting the three types of rest
You have almost certainly remembered to provide your employees with some form of lunch break in the middle of the day's work. However, many HR staff forget that there are actually three different types of break that employees are entitled to: rest at work, daily rest and weekly rest.
The first of these is the one that most employers already abide by. Workers over the age of 18 - with some exceptions - are entitled to a minimum of a 20-minute break if their shift lasts over six hours. This must be in the middle of the day, so it is not enough to let an employee start or end their shift early.
The second - daily rest - applies mainly to staff who work a variety of different shifts. Under the law, employees must have at least 11 hours of rest between each shift. If the work day finishes at 8:00pm, it is illegal to have an employee come in the next day at any time before 7:00am, for example.
Finally, weekly rest. According to Gov.uk, workers require either "an uninterrupted 24 hours without any work each week" or an "uninterrupted 48 hours without any work each fortnight". Ensure you are following these rules to stay within the bounds of UK employment law.
Not keeping up with changes
Laws are not static. They evolve and change with the times, and employment law is one of the fastest-developing areas. As such, it is absolutely essential that you stay up to date on any potential changes, some of which will be worth paying particular attention to in the UK due to the decision to leave the European Union.
The most common concerns from employers relate to any workers who are originally from the EU. At the moment, it is not clear what the legal status of these employees would be in the wake of Brexit, and many law firms are increasing the relevant teams in preparation for this.
For example, the Jackson Canter Group - a law firm based in Manchester and Liverpool - is doubling the size of its employment law team due to Brexit. Speaking to the Liverpool Echo, Sarah Nolan, the company's head of commercial and employment, said: "Britain’s vote to leave the EU has certainly thrown up a lot of questions for employers in the region."
Staying up to date is therefore of the utmost importance if you want to avoid employment pitfalls. Make sure you are keeping track of any changes in the law and implementing them as soon as possible.
Keeping negative feedback to yourself
Telling an employee they are falling behind or delivering poor work is difficult and awkward, but it needs to be done. Not only is it better for their personal development, but it also covers you in a case of unfair dismissal should you need to terminate their contract.
If you dismiss an employee out of the blue, you might find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. If you had negative feedback to give but kept it to yourself, you can be seen as denying that employee the opportunity to improve at work, which might have led to them keeping their job.
This is something that has recently made the news in Australia, as an Uber driver found his account deactivated with no warning. Uber had what it claims were good reasons to terminate the employee, but as they had not shared these with him he was able to take them to court.
Forgetting about shared parental leave
Parental law is one of the areas of employment law that has changed the most in recent years. Tim Forer, a partner in law firm Blake Morgan’s employment team, said: "The last decade has seen a number of significant shifts in employment law, particularly with regard to parental rights."
"These are largely positive developments but it is crucial that employers are aware of the issues that are most likely to trip them up. Falling foul of employment law, even unwittingly, can be costly."
Shared parental leave is one of the largest changes, which came into effect in April of 2015. This now allows anyone having or adopting a child the choice of sharing their maternity leave with their partner, which can lead to issues if you are not prepared for it.
Avoiding this pitfall involves updating your policies on starting a family to make it as easy as possible for your employees. Failure to do so can lead to confusion at best and discrimination cases in the worst-case scenarios.