Employment law – some key issues

Companies of all sizes in food and drink and retailing face ever-changing employment laws. What are some of the most important things to be aware of?

By Alison Weatherhead

Health and safety and immigration
Health and safety and immigration are two different areas of law with one important thing in common. A breach of either regime comes with significant risk to your business, as well as financial exposure and the prospect of being publicly named and shamed. Both regimes must be strictly adhered to, with senior officers within the business being held to account.
The HSE obligation for your business will be specific to the industry you operate in. But the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the new name for the UKBA, regime operates broadly the same for all. If a business is in breach of its immigration obligations there are fines of up to £10,000 per illegal worker and/or a prison sentence of up to two years. For those businesses that are also licensed sponsors there are additional obligations, both in terms of recruitment and tracking/monitoring migrant workers. You never know when the HSE and/or UKVI will make an unannounced site visit, so carry out audits and be prepared.

Alison Weatherhead is an employment lawyer with Maclay Murray & Spens LLP

How has your business dealt with holidays historically? If employees work overtime, receive commission, bonuses or allowances check how holiday pay is being, and has been, calculated. We are still waiting for final national court decisions, but it looks likely that if employees have only been receiving basic pay for holidays then further sums will be due where they usually receive additional payments, such as commission, overtime and allowances. How much employees are entitled to is not known yet but there is significant interest in this area from trade unions. Forewarned is forearmed.

Zero hours contracts
If you use zero hours contracts, when and how do you use them? We expect legislation in the coming months targeting exclusivity clauses, which prevent workers from working for other organisations (either entirely or without consent).

Has your business kept up with changes in whistleblowing law and how does it respond when someone makes a ‘protected disclosure’? Given issues such as health and safety and criminal activity are covered by the whistleblowing rules, it is an area which deserves close attention. It also makes good commercial sense to ensure people who do speak up do not suffer. Whistleblowing-related claims are expensive for employers as the dismissal of an employee is automatically unfair if the reason, or principal reason, is that they have made a ‘protected disclosure’. There is no financial cap on compensation in such claims and no requirement for a minimum period of service, which means employees may well try to bring themselves within the protection. Employers, therefore, need a robust defence.

Flexible working
How flexible are you prepared to be? Earlier this year all employees with 26 weeks service were given the right to request a flexible-working arrangement. Importantly, there is no obligation on employers to agree to requests. But with the economy picking up and more employers looking at ways to retain and reward employees this could become a new way to win or lose employee loyalty.